Part 2 of 2

The American holly, botanically known as Ilex opaca, is found in zones five through nine in the U.S. In Missouri, American holly grows naturally on the lower slopes and ridges of Crowley’s Ridge in southeast Missouri.

American hollies growing in natural habitats are pyramidal in shape with an open crown. As the tree grows and ages, the lower branches will fall off showing a smooth, gray, mottled bark that is attractive and interesting to look at.

American holly trees can reach up to 50 feet in height, and height at maturity is dependent upon weather conditions. Warmer weather year round will grow taller American hollies than the same species in cooler climates. It does take about 20 years for an American holly to reach maturity.

American holly has glossy, dark green, spiny leaves that persist through the winter, making them very attractive as an evergreen tree or shrub in four-climate landscapes.

“Satyr Hill” is a cultivar of the American Holly that won “Holly of the Year” in 2003, given out by the American Holly Society. It is a slow-growing variety that takes about 10 years to reach 9 feet in height and width with the potential to reach 40 feet at maturity. The leaves of “Satyr Hill” are more olive green in color than dark green.

“Jersey Princess” is a cultivar with dark green leaves that are retained throughout the winter season. “Jersey Knight” can be used to pollinate with “Jersey Princess.” These cultivars will reach 15 to 30 feet in height at maturity and eight to 18 feet in width.

“Miss Helen” is a holly that has a dense, pyramidal shape. The berries on “Miss Helen” ripen early and persist into winter. This cultivar can reach 30 feet in height and 20 feet in width.

Hollies do need to be protected from the wind. Once established, American holly is very tough. They can withstand drought, slightly wet sites and air pollution.

Male hollies need to be planted within 100 feet of female hollies. Cultivars can be very nice in large groups or alone. As the American holly grows, it can also make a nice screen when grown in groups.

American holly is one of the whitest woods. It has been used for engraving, making cabinetry, veneer and small furniture. It can be dyed black and used for piano keys, violin pegs and fingerboards.

Two native hollies also found in Missouri are Ilex deciduas, commonly known as “possum haw,” and Ilex verticillata, commonly known as winterberry. Possum haw and winterberry are small trees or spreading shrubs.

When purchasing hollies for the landscape, be sure to seek at least one male plant for every five or six female plants. The plants will marked as male or female in the nursery.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply