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European Holly (Ilex aquifolium) leaves and fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Subclass: Asteridae
(unranked) Euasterids II
Order: Aquifoliales
Family: Aquifoliaceae
DC. ex A.Rich.
Genus: Ilex

About 600, see text

Holly (Ilex) is a genus of about 600 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae, and the only living genus in that family. One other genus, the monotypic Nemopanthus (Mountain Holly), was formerly separated from Ilex on the basis that its flowers have a reduced calyx and narrow petals, and also in cytology, being tetraploid, whereas Ilex is diploid. However, following analysis of molecular data, Mountain Holly has now been merged into Ilex, as I. mucronata; it is closely related to I. amelanchier.[1][2]


Description and ecology

  Hollies are shrubs and trees from 2–25 m tall, with a wide distribution in Asia, Europe, north Africa, and North and South America. The leaves are simple, and can be either deciduous or evergreen depending on the species, and may be entire, finely toothed, or with widely-spaced, spine-tipped serrations. They are mostly dioecious, with male and female flowers on different plants, with some exceptions. Pollination is mainly by bees and other insects. The fruit is a small berry, usually red when mature, with one to ten seeds.

  Holly berries are mildly toxic and will cause vomiting and/or diarrhea when ingested by people. However they are extremely important food for numerous species of birds, and also are eaten by other wild animals. In the fall and early winter the berries are hard and apparently unpalatable. After being frozen or frosted several times, the berries soften, and become milder in taste. During winter storms, birds often take refuge in hollies, which provide shelter, protection from predators (by the spiny leaves), and food. The flowers are sometimes eaten by the larva of the Double-striped Pug moth (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata). Other Lepidoptera whose larvae feed on holly include Bucculatrix ilecella (which feeds exclusively on hollies) and The Engrailed (Ectropis crepuscularia). The Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica) is another well-known animal feeding on holly leaves.

Having evolved numerous species that are endemic to islands and small mountain ranges, and being highly useful plants, many hollies are now becoming rare. Tropical species are especially often threatened by habitat destruction and overexploitation, and at least two have become extinct, with numerous others barely surviving.[3]

Selected species

  • Ilex abscondita
  • Ilex acutidenticulata
  • Ilex altiplana
  • Ilex ambigua – Sand Holly
  • Ilex amelanchier – Swamp Holly
  • Ilex anomala
  • Ilex anonoides
  • Ilex aquifolium – European Holly
  • Ilex aracamuniana
  • Ilex arisanensis
  • Ilex bioritsensis
  • Ilex brachyphylla
  • Ilex brasiliensis
  • Ilex brevipedicellata
  • Ilex buergeri
  • Ilex canariensis – Small-leaved Holly
  • Ilex caniensis
  • Ilex cassine – Dahoon Holly
  • Ilex centrochinensis
  • Ilex cerasifolia
  • Ilex chengkouensis
  • Ilex chinensis
  • Ilex chuniana
  • Ilex ciliolata
  • Ilex ciliospinosa
  • Ilex colchica
  • Ilex collina
  • Ilex conocarpa
  • Ilex cookii – Cook's Holly
  • Ilex corallina
  • Ilex coriacea – Gallberry
  • Ilex cornuta – Chinese Holly
  • Ilex costaricensis
  • Ilex cowanii
  • Ilex crenata – Japanese Holly
  • Ilex cyrtura
  • Ilex dabieshanensis
  • Ilex davidsei
  • Ilex decidua – Possumhaw
  • Ilex dehongensis
  • Ilex dimorphophylla
  • Ilex diospyroides
  • Ilex dipyrena – Himalayan Holly
  • Ilex ericoides
  • Ilex euryoides
  • Ilex fargesii
  • Ilex fengqingensis
  • Ilex florifera
  • Ilex gardneriana (extinct: 20th century?)
  • Ilex geniculata
  • Ilex georgei
  • Ilex glabella
  • Ilex glabra – Inkberry
  • Ilex gleasoniana
  • Ilex goshiensis
  • Ilex graciliflora
  • Ilex grandiflora
  • Ilex guaiquinimae
  • Ilex guayusa – Guayusa
  • Ilex harrisii
  • Ilex holstii
  • Ilex huachamacariana
  • Ilex ignicola
  • Ilex illustris
  • Ilex integerrima
  • Ilex integra
  • Ilex intricata
  • Ilex jamaicana
  • Ilex jauaensis
  • Ilex jelskii
  • Ilex karuaiana
  • Ilex khasiana
  • Ilex kingiana
  • Ilex kudingcha
  • Ilex kusanoi
  • Ilex laevigata
  • Ilex lasseri
  • Ilex latifolia – Tarajo Holly
  • Ilex lechleri
  • Ilex leucoclada
  • Ilex longipes
  • Ilex longzhouensis
  • Ilex machilifolia
  • Ilex maclurei
  • Ilex macrocarpa
  • Ilex macropoda
  • Ilex magnifructa
  • Ilex maingayi
  • Ilex marahuacae
  • Ilex marginata
  • Ilex mathewsii
  • Ilex mitis
  • Ilex montana – Mountain Winterberry
  • Ilex mucronata – Mountain Holly
  • Ilex myrtifolia – Myrtle Holly
  • Ilex neblinensis
  • Ilex nothofagifolia
  • Ilex oblonga
  • Ilex occulta
  • Ilex opaca – American Holly
  • Ilex palawanica
  • Ilex pallida
  • Ilex paraguariensis –Yerba Mate
  • Ilex parvifructa
  • Ilex patens
  • Ilex pauciflora
  • Ilex paujiensis
  • Ilex pedunculosa
  • Ilex peiradena
  • Ilex perado – Madeiran Holly
  • Ilex perlata
  • Ilex pernyi – Perny's Holly
  • Ilex polita
  • Ilex praetermissa
  • Ilex pringlei
  • Ilex puberula
  • Ilex pubescens
  • Ilex pubiflora
  • Ilex purpurea
  • Ilex qianlingshanensis
  • Ilex quercetorum
  • Ilex rarasanensis
  • Ilex reticulata
  • Ilex rotunda
  • Ilex rugosa
  • Ilex sclerophylla
  • Ilex serrata – Japanese Winterberry
  • Ilex sessilifructa
  • Ilex shimeica
  • Ilex sikkimensis
  • Ilex sintenisii – Sintenis' Holly
  • Ilex sipapoana
  • Ilex socorroensis
  • Ilex spinigera
  • Ilex spruceana
  • Ilex steyermarkii
  • Ilex subrotundifolia
  • Ilex subtriflora
  • Ilex sugerokii
  • Ilex sulcata
  • Ilex syzygiophylla
  • Ilex tahanensis
  • Ilex tateana
  • Ilex taubertiana
  • Ilex ternatiflora (extinct: 20th century?)
  • Ilex theezans
  • Ilex tiricae
  • Ilex tolucana
  • Ilex trachyphylla
  • Ilex trichocarpa
  • Ilex tugitakayamensis
  • Ilex uraiensis
  • Ilex vaccinoides
  • Ilex venezuelensis
  • Ilex venulosa
  • Ilex verticillata – American Winterberry
  • Ilex vomitoria – Yaupon Holly
  • Ilex vulcanicola
  • Ilex wenchowensis
  • Ilex williamsii
  • Ilex wilsonii
  • Ilex yunnanensis
  • Ilex wugonshanensis
  • Ilex yuiana



The origin of the word "holly" is Old English holegn, which is related to Old High German hulis. The French word for holly, houx, derives from the Old High German word, as do Low German/Low Franconian terms like Hülse or hulst. These Germanic words appear to be related to words for holly in Celtic languages, such as Welsh celyn and Irish cuilleann.

The botanical name ilex was the original Latin name for the Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), which has similar foliage to common holly, and is occasionally confused with it.


  In many western cultures, holly is a traditional Christmas decoration, used especially in wreaths. The wood is heavy, hard and whitish; one traditional use is for chess pieces, with holly for the white pieces, and ebony for the black. Other uses include turnery, inlay work and as firewood. Looms in the 1800s used holly for the spinning rod. Because holly is dense and can be sanded very smooth, the rod was less likely than other woods to snag threads being used to make cloth.

  Many of the hollies are highly decorative, and are widely used as ornamental plants in gardens and parks. Several hybrids and numerous cultivars have been developed for garden use, among them the very popular Ilex × altaclerensis (I. aquifolium × I. perado) and Ilex × meserveae (I. aquifolium × I. rugosa).[10] Hollies are often used by homeowners and landscape architects for hedges; the sharp thorns of many species deter unauthorised persons from entering private properties, and may prevent break-ins if planted under windows and near drainpipes. The aesthetic characteristics of holly plants, in conjunction with their home security qualities, makes them a good choice for hedges.[11]

Between the thirteenth and eighteenth century, before the introduction of turnips, holly was cultivated for use as winter fodder for cattle and sheep.[12] Less spiny varieties of holly were preferred, and in practice the leaves growing near the top of the tree have far fewer spines making them more suitable for fodder.

Several holly species are used to make caffeine-rich herbal teas. The South American Yerba Mate (I. paraguariensis) is boiled for the popular revigorating drinks Mate, and Chimarrão, and steeped in water for the cold Tereré. Guayusa (I. guayusa) is used both as a stimulant and as an admixture to the entheogenic tea ayahuasca; its leaves have the highest known caffeine content of any plant. In North and Central America, Yaupon (I. vomitoria), was used by southeastern Native Americans as a ceremonial stimulant and emetic known as "the black drink"[13]. As the name suggests, the tea's purgative properties were one of its main uses, most often ritually. Evergreen Winterberry (Appalachian Tea, I. glabra) is a milder substitute for Yaupon. In China, the young leaf buds of I. kudingcha are processed in a method similar to green tea to make a tisane called kǔdīng chá (苦丁茶, roughly "bitter spikeleaf tea").


Look up ilex in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
  1. ^ Powell, M., Savolainen, V., Cuénoud, P., Manen, J. F., & Andrews, S. (2000). The mountain holly (Nemopanthus mucronatus: Aquifoliaceae) revisited with molecular data. Kew Bulletin 55: 341–347.
  2. ^ Gottlieb, A. M., Giberti, G. C., & Poggio, L. (2005). Molecular analyses of the genus Ilex (Aquifoliaceae) in southern South America, evidence from AFLP and ITS sequence data. Amer. J. Bot. 92: 352-369. Available online.
  3. ^ a b International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)}} (2007): 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Ilex
  4. ^ Germplasm Resources Information Network: Ilex species list
  5. ^ Flora of China: Ilex species list
  6. ^ Flora of Ecuador: Ilex
  7. ^ Flora Europaea: Ilex species list
  8. ^ Flora of Nepal: Ilex species list
  9. ^ USDA Plants Profile: Ilex
  10. ^ Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
  11. ^ Northumbria Police: Security starts at the Garden Gate
  12. ^ Spray, M. (1981). Holly as a Fodder in England. Agricultural History Review 29 (2): 97. Available online (pdf file). British Agricultural History Society.
  13. ^ Cherokee: Gvnega adatasti (ᎬᏁᎦ ᎠᏓᏔᏍᏘ), Asi (ᎠᏏ).
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Holly". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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