20+ Different Holly Tree Types (Full Holly Varieties List) - PlantSnap

20+ Different Holly Tree Types (Full Holly Varieties List)

by | Nov 30, 2020

Holly is a plant that permeates pop-culture. Whether you’re singing a holiday classic with your grandmother, walking along some neighborhood hedges, or brewing a cup of Yerba Mate to start your day, holly, also known as the plant genus Ilex, is often nearby when you know where to look. Today we’ll dig into 20+ different types of holly and holly trees. 


What Is Holly? 


Holly, or Ilex, is a plant genus made up of many hundreds of species. Depending on the species, holly can be evergreen or can be a deciduous holly. People can easily recognize this plant with its green leaves with bright red berries – but there is a lot of variety within the genus, too. A wide spectrum of traits distinguishes this broad group: spiny or full and luscious; bright or dark green; sun-loving or drought-tolerant.  

Native regions of different Ilex species span from tropical regions to temperate zones and growth patterns vary from evergreen trees, evergreen shrubs, to climbers. 

Often, you’ll see holly grown as privacy hedges and on disturbed ground. Holly is generally a very adaptable plant, making these small trees and shrubs popular landscaping additions in the appropriate hardiness zones. 

To find out if your home or your garden is in a climate with a hardiness zone appropriate for holly, just do a quick internet search. 


The Folklore of Holly 


Today the plant is strongly associated with the Christmas season. In pre-victorian Europe, “Christmas trees” weren’t firs and spruces – they were holly trees

But the folk significance of holly stretches even deeper into certain cultures’ collective history. For example, pre-Christian European traditions linked holly plants to various thunder gods. People planted holly outside their door, believing it would prevent lightning from striking the house. In Celtic mythology, the Holly King is often woven into lore as a giant and often linked to the “green man” archetype of Arthurian legend. 

Even today, some superstitions around holly have stuck: it’s bad luck to cut down a holly tree, though, fear not, it’s fine to prune and bring into the home for festive decorations



holly tree, illex crenata


Deck The Halls With Dioecious-ness 


There’s a lot more to holly than its decorative aesthetics, however. Ilex is a dioecious plant, which means that female plants and female trees are separate from male plants and trees. Depending on the biological sex of the holly plant, you’ll staminate or pistillate flowers. 

Holly plants are flowering perennials, flowering in spring and early summer. Bees conduct pollination, turning the small green ball inside female flowers into red fruit. 

When these branches of green leaves and red berries are cut, they are primarily used as an ornamental Christmas holly plant in winter plant displays along with spruce tips, boxwood, and Eucalyptus. The vibrant holly berries stand out particularly well in the winter landscapes of temperate zones. 

For almost all species, the leaves and the red berries are toxic. The exception to this is Yerba Mate, which is an important cultural beverage in South America that has gained popularity around the world due to globalization. 


holly (Ilex aquifolium)


Types of Holly and Holly Bushes


With over 480 species of holly and a wide variety of species, today we’ll explore some of the more popular species you might encounter. The following list is organized in alphabetical order by common name. 


Altaclere Holly (Ilex x altaclerensis)


Holly Golden King, Ilex x altaclerensis


Nativity: Europe 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to partial shade or dappled shade 

Leaves: dark green leaves with golden variegation. 

Fun Fact: Also known as “Golden King Holly.” It is bred partly from English holly and was first found growing in a garden. It is known to attract wildlife


American Holly (Ilex opaca)



American Holly, Ilex opaca


Nativity: – The American holly tree is native to North America 

Sun Requirements: Does well in full sun 

Leaves: spiny leaves

Fun Fact: Deer and 18 species of birds eat the red berries in the United States according to the USDA. 


Blue Holly (Ilex x meserveae)


Nativity: This species is a cross between English ivy and Tsuru holly.

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade 

Leaves: Evergreen hollies with showy flowers and thorns

Fun Fact: This variety was first propagated and introduced in New York in 1950 by Kathleen K. Meserve. 


Carolina Holly (Ilex ambigua)


Nativity: Southeastern and Southcentral United States. 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade. 

Leaves: Green with toothy or wavy leaf margins. 

Fun Fact: The fruit of Carolina holly is more elliptical than round, which can help to distinguish this variety from American holly, which is often growing nearby. 


Catberry (Ilex mucronata)


Nativity: North American and Europe 

Sun Requirements: Part shade 

Leaves: Green 

Fun Fact: This type of holly attracts butterflies and is a larval host to the Columbia silkmoth. It prefers moist habitats such as bogs and marshes


Chinese Holly (Ilex cornuta)


Nativity: Also known as horned holly, this species is native to Asia 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade 

Leaves: Spiny leaves that point downwards

Fun Fact: Chinese holly is drought-tolerant. 


Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine)


Red Dahoon Holly, Ilex cassine



Nativity: Southeastern United States

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade

Leaves: Smooth and supple green foliage

Fun Fact: Resistant to pests and disease


English Holly  (Ilex aquifolium)


Nativity: Europe. It is considered invasive in parts of the US. 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade

Leaves: Green and with spikes around the edges

Fun Fact: This species has over 10 popular varieties.


Hedgehog Holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’)


hedgehog holly


Nativity: Europe, this is a variety of English ivy 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to deep shade

Leaves: Green with white or butter variegation and sharp spines

Fun Fact: The leaves of hedgehog holly are often compared to a pincushion.


Finetooth Holly  (Ilex serrata)


Nativity: Japan and China 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade

Leaves: Green, but not deciduous

Fun Fact: It is easy to confuse this species of holly with winterberry, but Finetooth holly has smaller berries and its leaves are semi-evergreen


Hawaiian Holly (Ilex anomala)


Nativity: Hawaiian Islands

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade

Leaves: Dark green and glossy while the underside of the leaf is lighter. 

Fun Fact: This species is rarely seen in cultivation


Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra)



Inkberry Holly Plant


Nativity: North America 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade 

Leaves: Green and similar in shade to that of the oak holly leaf

Fun Fact: Inkberry’s botanical name refers to the smooth leaves, in comparison to other holly species with sharp spikes.


Japanese Holly  (Ilex crenata)


Nativity: Asia

Sun Requirements: Part shade

Leaves: green and compact 

Fun Fact: This species is also known as box-leaved holly


Longstalked Holly  (Ilex pedunculosa)


longstalk holly


Nativity: Asia

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade

Leaves: pear-shaped, glossy green leaves

Fun Fact: Longstalked holly is salt-tolerant and able to thrive even in areas where there is significant air pollution


Lusterleaf Holly (Ilex latifolia)


Nativity: Japan and China 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade 

Leaves: Green, with a waxy, leathery texture 

Fun Fact: This species often grows in a pyramidal habit and it supports the Colletes banksi bee. 


Myrtle-Leaved Holly  (Ilex myrtifolia)


Nativity: Alabama 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade 

Leaves: Green, glossy and oblong 

Fun Fact: Myrtle-leaved holly is tolerant of wet habitats and is often found in wetland areas. 


Possumhaw Holly  (Ilex decidua)


Possumhaw Holly



Nativity: United States

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade 

Leaves: Green, deciduous 

Fun Fact: Very attractive to pollinators, especially songbirds


Round Leaf Holly (Ilex rotunda)


Nativity: Asia

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade

Leaves: Green leaves without spines 

Fun Fact: This plant is also commonly known as Kurogane holly and was one of the first plants to return to Hiroshima after the city was bombed by the United States in WWII. 


Small-Leaved Holly (Ilex canariensis)


Nativity: Macaronesian Islands of Madiera and Canarias

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade 

Leaves: Green, waxy, oblong 

Fun Fact: This type of holly grows in what is known as a “laurel forest”.


Winterberry Holly  (Ilex verticillata)


Ilex Decidua, winter berry holly


Nativity: North America and Europe 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to full shade

Leaves: Green, deciduous 

Fun Fact: This plant is extremely showy in the fall and winter due to its bright red berries. 


Yaupon Holly  (Ilex vomitoria)


Nativity: Southeastern United States 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade

Leaves: Light green and small 

Fun Fact: The botanical name is a reference to this species being a significant ceremonial plant to indigenous communities in the Southeastern United States that induced vomiting. 


Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis)


yerba mate



Nativity: South America 

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade 

Leaves: Green, narrow, and pear-shaped

Fun Fact: Yerba mate is a culturally important beverage in many parts of South America where it is sipped as a daily ritual, out of a specific kind of gourd and a metal straw. The leaves contain caffeine, similar to the cacao plant. 


Ilex Around the World 


The Ilex genus encompasses the planet, with distinct species and varieties that reflect the diverse ecosystems and cultures where it can be found today. As much of the world enters into a season of festivities and celebration, it can be a delight to encounter holly in your everyday life and understand a bit more about this powerful genus of plants!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.