Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Mountain Holly - Ilex montana   Torrey & A. Gray ex A. Gray
Members of Ilex with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Celastrales » Family Aquifoliaceae
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AuthorTorrey & A. Gray ex A. Gray
DistributionStrictly in the Mountains and foothills. Records for “Ilex montana” in older references for the remainder of the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain now refer to I. ambigua.

This is a mainly Appalachian Mountains endemic; it ranges north to NY and MA and south to northern GA and northern AL.
AbundanceFrequent to common in its NC range, and reasonably widespread, being found in practically all of the Mountain counties and those along the Blue Ridge Escarpment.
HabitatThis is a species of mesic upland forests, often in various oak forests, but also in Acidic Cove Forests and into some Rich Cove Forests, though not characteristic of overly rich cove forests. It may rarely occur in damp ground and bog margins.
PhenologyBlooms from April to June, and fruits in August and September.
IdentificationThis is a medium to tall deciduous shrub, rarely a small tree, growing to about 10-20 feet tall. The alternate leaves are narrowly ovate to narrowly elliptic (usually somewhat wider just below the middle), noticeably serrate, and rather long for a holly, averaging 3-5 inches long. The leaf is somewhat narrowed to the tip. The very similar I. ambigua, which also grows in parts of the mountains, has smaller and more widely elliptic leaves rarely to 2.5 or 3 inches long, leaves with only inconspicuously serrate margins, and a shorter petiole. In addition, I. montana has larger “berries” and is a taller shrub than is I. ambigua.
Taxonomic CommentsThe Ilex montana as identified here is not the same entity as I. montana var. montana as described in RAB (1968) and some other references. That taxon included some populations of the current I. ambigua. Thus, the re-defined I. montana, as detailed in Weakley (2018) and on this website, is a strictly Appalachian taxon and has no varieties. Those “I. montana” individuals of the central and eastern Piedmont and Coastal Plain are now considered as part of I. ambigua.

Other Common Name(s)Big-leaved Holly, Largeleaf Holly, Mountain Winterberry
State RankS5
Global RankG5
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