Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for American Holly - Ilex opaca   Aiton
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Section 6 » Order Celastrales » Family Aquifoliaceae
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DistributionThroughout the state, no doubt present in all 100 counties.

This is a species that ranges across most of the eastern U.S. but is infrequent north of NJ, VA, and MO. It reaches MA, NY, and southern MI and south to the Gulf Coast.
AbundanceCommon to abundant across essentially all of the state, less numerous at higher elevations.
HabitatIt occurs in great variety of mostly mesic forests, but also is widespread in bottomland forests. It does occur in drier forests, but it is not typically numerous in sandy or in overly rocky soils. It does not normally occur in overly wet ground, but it can occur in drier areas within swamps. Observers are usually able to see this species every day afield in most every county, assuming a visit to the interior of a mesic or bottomland forest.
See also Habitat Account for General Holly Thickets
PhenologyBlooms from April to June, and fruits from September to October, with the “berries” persisting through much of the winter.
IdentificationThis is the only holly that reaches a full-sized tree, typically being a medium-sized (but understory) tree, reaching 60 to rarely 80 feet tall. The species is so familiar to even the layman that there is no confusion with any other native tree, only with non-native species such as English Holly (I. aquifolium). It has alternate, evergreen leaves that are thick, dark green and elliptic, with a few sharp-spined teeth. The female trees – all hollies are dioecious – are heavily adorned with red “berries” in late fall and winter and are an essential food item for songbirds in the winter, especially for American Robins and Cedar Waxwings.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Christmas Holly
State RankS5
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpFAC link
USACE-empFACU link
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieSame data, Dec 2018, prior to robins and waxwings. MoorePhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieWhispering Pines, backyard woods, May 2015. MoorePhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieNags Head Wood preserve, big tree on steep slope, June 2012.

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