Plant Common Name
The glossy, spined, dark green leaves of English holly are beautiful year round, but look particularly alluring in fall and winter when contrasted with its clusters of cheerful red berries. A tall, pyramid-shaped, broadleaf evergreen tree, it is native to southern and western Europe, western Asia and extreme northern Africa.
The leaves can be quite variable on this species, but are generally dark glossy green and oval-shaped with widely spaced spines on the wavy margins. Leaf undersides are a lighter matte green. As with most hollies, this species bears either entirely male or female flowers on separate plants. Bees pollinate the flowers and by early fall, female trees produce an attractive crop of small, round berries which are usually red but may rarely be orange or orange-yellow. Birds will nab the fruits in winter as needed for survival, and often are the reason seedlings sprout up haphazardly around the landscape.
Grow English holly in full to part sun and fertile, well-drained, acid to neutral soil. This species is tolerant of alkaline soils, but it is very important to amend the soil in such cases with mulch and other organic matter to prevent nutritional deficiencies that will become very apparent in the foliage. In hot, dry regions, protect this tree from winds and note that it is resistant to oak root fungus. Use it as a tall, elegant screen or hedgerow, or as a lovely corner accent on large houses or commercial buildings. The foliage and fruits are highly desired as decorative cut sprigs for Holiday decorations.
Scores of English holly cultivars are in existence, including many variegated forms ('Silver Queen', 'Gold Coast', 'Aureo-marginata'). Some selections have colors in the center of the leaf ('Pinto', Silver Star', 'Silver Milkmaid', 'Golden Milkmaid') whereas a huge number have uniquely shaped leaves, colors or amounts of fruits, or other ornamentally exciting attributes.
English holly self-sows in favorable climates, and is considered a weed in parts of Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.