Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Ilex opaca
SPECIES: Ilex opaca
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Coladonato, Milo. 1991. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name of American holly is Ilex opaca
Ait. The Ilex genus consists of 13 species belonging to the holly
family (Aquifoliaceae). There are no forms or subspecies of American
holly. Recognized varieties include [21,34]:
I. opaca var. opaca American holly
I. opaca var. arenicola (Ashe) Ashe scrub or hummock holly
I. opaca hybridizes with I. cassine to produce I. x attenata Ashe .
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Ilex opaca
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
From the maritime forests of Massachusetts, American holly is scattered
along the coast to Delaware. It grows inland to several Pennsylvania
counties and to extreme southeastern Ohio. It occurs abundantly
southward throughout the Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Appalachians. Its
range extends south to mid-peninsular Florida and west to eastern Texas
and southern Missouri [23,46]. It is cultivated in Hawaii 
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
AL AR CT DE FL GA HI KY LA MA
MD MS MO NC OH OK PA RI SC TN
TX VA WV
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K089 Black Belt
K090 Live oak - sea oats
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
K115 Sand pine - scrub
SAF COVER TYPES :
21 Eastern white pine
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
43 Bear oak
44 Chestnut oak
45 Pitch pine
46 Eastern redcedar
51 White pine - chestnut oak
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
53 White oak
57 Yellow poplar
58 Yellow poplar - eastern hemlock
59 Yellow poplar - white oak - northern red oak
61 River birch - sycamore
64 Sassafras - persimmon
65 Pin oak - sweetgum
69 Sand pine
70 Longleaf pine
71 Longleaf pine - scrub oak
72 Southern scrub oak
73 Southern redcedar
74 Cabbage palmetto
75 Shortleaf pine
76 Shortleaf pine - oak
78 Virginia pine - oak
79 Virginia pine
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
84 Slash pine
85 Slash pine - hardwood
87 Sweetgum - yellow poplar
88 Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak
89 Live oak
91 Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak
92 Sweetgum - willow oak
96 Overcup oak - water hickory
97 Atlantic white cedar
98 Pond pine
103 Water tupelo - swamp tupelo
104 Sweetbay - swamp tupelo - red bay
110 Black oak
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
SPECIES: Ilex opaca
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE :
The wood of American holly is heavy, tough, and close-grained. It
shrinks considerably, checks or warps badly unless properly seasoned,
and is not durable under exposure . The wood is used for veneer and
to a limited extent as pulpwood and lumber. The greates use of the wood
is for cabinets, interior finish, novelties, handles, fixtures, and
scientific instruments. When dyed black to resemble ebony, it is used
for piano keys, violin pegs, and fingerboards .
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Birds are the principal consumers of American holly fruit, although
deer, squirrels, and other small animals eat them. At least 18 species
of birds, including songbirds, mourning doves, wild turkeys, and
northern bobwhite, are known to eat the fruit [42,46]. Cattle and deer
sometimes browse the foliage [9,18].
The palatability of American holly to white-tailed deer and cattle is
considered poor. Deer and cattle generally consume American holly only
when more preferred browse is unavailable .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Lay  listed nutrient percentage values for American holly browse
collected in winter and summer on a pine-hardwood forest in Newton
Protein Fat Fiber extract Ash acid Calcium
Su 5.50 --- --- --- --- 0.14 ---
W 6.73 3.16 26.10 46.17 2.84 0.14 0.70
These levels are low for protein and deficient for phosphoric acid, but
high for calcium .
COVER VALUE :
Cavities in American holly provide nesting habitat for the endangered
red-cockaded woodpecker .
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
American holly is useful for rehabilitating areas that have been damaged
by salt spray. It is more resistant to damage from salt spray than any
associated woody species in the maritime forest of New England [23,25].
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
The attractiveness of American holly's foliage is its principal value,
whether as a forest tree, planted ornamental, or Christmas decoration.
It can be used for yard, street, park planting, or for hedges [6,47].
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
American holly is considered an undesirable shrub that competes with
pines and desirable hardwoods for light, moisture, and nutrients.
Streamline basal application of the herbicide Garlon 4 is an effective
means of controlling American holly .
The greatest damage to American holly trees is the indiscriminate
harvesting of foliage with berries for Christmas decorating. Before
laws were passed in Maryland and Delaware to protect the holly, there
was a "roadside" market for holly collected from trees that did not
belong to the harvesters. Trees were left mutilated and many died .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Ilex opaca
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
American holly is a native evergreen tree that grows to 50 feet (16 m)
[12,17]. Its evergreen leaves are leathery, with sharp pointed tips and
spiny toothed margins. The branches are short and crooked, and the
crown is rounded or pyramidal. The greenish white flowers are
unisexual, dioecious, and borne on short-stalked, axillary cymose
clusters. The fruit is a round, bright red, orange, or occasionally
yellow, four-seeded drupe or pyrene. The bark is thin, gray, and often
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Sexual: American holly is pollinated by insects, including bees, ants,
wasps, and night-flying moths . Seed germination is slow, requiring
16 months to 3 years in nature . Seeds are mainly dispersed by
birds and small mammals [10,13]. Seed production may be low in years of
heavy spring rain, as rain can diminish the wide dissemination of
pollen. A frost can kill the spring flowers, eliminating the fruit
crop. Frequent prescribed burning will also reduce fruit production
Vegetative: American holly sprouts from basal dormant buds [23,44].
Propagation: Transplanting of young holly trees should be done during
the dormant season, usually November through March. Small plants may be
dug bare-rooted if roots are kept moist, but larger plants should be
balled and burlapped. When wild hollies are transplanted from the
woods, tops should be severely pruned and most of the remaining leaves
removed. Small trees should be allowed to flower before transplanting
to ensure the selection of fruit-bearing individuals. Root pruning to a
depth of 2 to 3 feet (0.6-0.9 m) a year before lifting improves
transplanting success. Holly can be produced from cuttings taken in
August or September and December. Cuttings should be taken from the
current season's ripened wood, with a small section of 2-year-old wood
including several leaves. Cuttings should be set slanting in about 6
inches (15 cm) of moist peatmoss, with the leaves lying flat on the
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
American holly is primarily a plant of the humid Southeast. It occupies
a wide variety of soils, from nearly sterile Inceptisols of the Atlantic
sandy beaches to fertile but thin mountain Ultisols to an elevation of
approximately 3,000 feet (915 m) [12,23]. The largest trees are found
in the rich bottomlands and swamps of the Coastal Plain. Growth is best
in moist, slightly acidic, well-drained sites such as upland pine sites
and hammocks [8,11]. Trees will not survive flooding or saturated soils
for more than 17 percent of the growing season. In the northeastern
portion of its range, holly is found on sandy soils on the Coast and on
dry gravely soils farther inland [2,12].
American holly is a common understory component in the longleaf pine
(Pinus palustris)-slash pine (P. elliotti) forests of the Coastal Plain.
Other common associates include sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua),
flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), American beech (Fagus grandifolia),
red maple (Acer rubrum), white oak (Quercus alba), water oak (Q.
nigra), hickory (Carya spp.), white ash (Fraxinus americana), yellow
poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), black tupelo (Nysaa sylvatica),
southern red oak (Quercus falcata), and post oak (Q. stellata) .
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
American holly is seldom dominant because of its slow growth and
relatively short stature [3,16]. It is very shade tolerant and can
survive in the understory of most forest canopies . American
holly's slow growth allows faster growing species to overtop it. Shade
and root competition in natural stands reduces the average height of
hollies compared with those growing in full sunlight. Crown area is
reduced by more than one-third under medium shade and by more than
one-half under heavy shade [23,30].
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
American holly begins flowering in April in the southern parts of its
range and in June at its northern limits. The fruit ripen from
September through December and remain on the tree through most of the
SPECIES: Ilex opaca
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
American holly is susceptible to aboveground fire damage. It may persist by
sprouting from the root crown. [1,7,14].
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
off-site colonizer; seed carried by animals or water; postfire yr 1&2
SPECIES: Ilex opaca
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Fire easily top-kills American holly . Its thin bark is easily
injured by fire [24,26]. The cambium layer is destroyed and the leaves
and crown defoliated. Even large trees may be killed by light fires in
the understory [27,48].
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
American holly sprouts from surviving basal buds following fire .
Initial growth after fire is slow, averaging about 6 feet (1.8 m) in 16
years under medium shade . Three annual fires in a southern pine
forest reduced the number of fruit-producing holly trees by 95 percent
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Fire is a very effective agent for controlling American holly.
Seedlings and sprouts can usually be eliminated as a result of normal
underburning regimes in most commercial pine stands .
SPECIES: Ilex opaca
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