American Holly (Ilex opaca) is an evergreen shrub and tree that grows 10-20 meters tall from Massachusetts to Florida, west to Texas. Holly leaves are a glossy green and range 5-7.5 cm long and 2-4 cm wide. Leaves form in an alternate pattern, and have several sharp points along the edge. Holly “berries” are called drupes, and ripen from a green to a bright red color in the fall. Drupes are poisonous to humans, and will stay on the plant throughout the winter. Small white flowers bloom from April to June. Holly is commonly found in the understory of a forest due to its shade-tolerance.
Many animals use American Holly as a food source including Wild Turkeys, Northern Bobwhite, songbirds, deer, raccoons, Eastern Box Turtle, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, and cottontails. Holly trees also provide nesting habitat and shelter for several animals as well. These animals aid holly by spreading its seeds to create more plants.
Around Christmas and the holidays, holly is a very popular decoration, and can be overharvested in more populated areas. This plant is a common landscape species, and often used for hedges. Its wood is used for piano keys, violin pegs, cabinets and handles. Nectar is collected from holly to make honey as well.