Ilex aquifolium


Ilex aquifolium Grown in the UK 5
Common Holly
Holly is a shrub with tree-potential though it is so humble that it will remain a shrub where other species have already formed a forest of trees. Unlike most other shrubs and bushes, Holly seems to exhibit an inner impulse for “uprightness”: it forms a central stem with clearly defined side-branches whenever it is allowed to. The shape of the 10-15 m (30-45 ft.) high tree is often almost cylindrical.

Looking at it from far away we usually see ample light coming through the branches. Despite the deep dark green of the individual leaves, it has an element of light and levity at first appearance, due to the relatively loose arrangement of the leaves and the shininess of the leaf surfaces reflecting the light.

Coming closer to it we become aware of other features, some of which make Holly totally unique among European trees. The bark is dark grey, thin, and peels off by itself. The young twigs are very short, light green, and densely covered with hair. In the second year they become bold while changing from an angular to a round diameter, i.e. from a surface with grooves to a smooth skin.

Every twig has buds not only at the sides but also one at the tip. These buds are green and have no hair, and they are 2-3 mm long, pointed, cylindrical, and different in appearance from the rounded flower buds.

The leaves sit in alternate positions. They are thick and leathery, a deep dark green colour above and a light yellow-green below, with no hairs on either side. They remain on the tree for about three years — making Holly the only evergreen non-coniferous tree of Europe. Their shape is very special: the basic scheme is a pointed ellipsoid, about 5-8 cm long and about half as wide, with the stalk of the leaf being about a fifth of the length of the leaf itself.

Ilex aquifolium Grown in the UK 4

This simple form of the leaves can take on a more complex shape with up to 15 pointy edges.
A young tree has almost exclusively pointed leaves; female trees will have more of them than male ones. Also, the pointed leaves may be found in the shadow regions and in the lower section of the tree. Higher upward in the tree, particularly near where the flowers are, there are more and more of the simple leaves.

Ilex aquifolium Grown in the UK Male Flower2MALE FLOWER

The flowers of the Holly open up in May or June, growing in bunches out of buds left near the attachment of the last year’s leaves. They are about 8 mm in diameter, with four white petals which may have a slight tint of pink. The sepals are inconspicuous. The number of anthers is four, and the “female” carpel is fourfold, too. The tree has the rare capacity to produce both “unisex” or “bisex” flowers, simply by letting either the anthers or the carpel degenerate. Thus we usually find trees with only “male” or only “female” flowers. However, if need be, as when there are not enough bees around to pollinate over a long distance, Holly can return to having fully equipped flowers.

Ilex aquifolium Grown in the UK Female Flower3FEMALE FLOWER


This page was supported by

       BORDER NURSERY        


Please visit to find Growers, Enterprises, Places to Eat and Events.

If you would like to add a plant to this database we would love to hear from you.(credit and links will be given)