Plants and People Project

Holly - Ilex opaca

"Native Americans boiled American holly twigs with pine tops to produce a tea to cure coughs." American Forests: The Festive Holly

"All holly trees and shrubs are dioecious; landscapers need to plant a male plant within 30'- 40' of females in order for the latter to yield berries. Hollies prefer to grow in acidic soils, which is why in nature they do so well in oak forests." American Holly Trees

American Holly is not poisonous. Despite the presence of saponins in the leaves and berries, American holly is not considered poisonous to man or animals. Ilex opaca

"The roasted leaves are used as a tea substitute. They do not contain caffeine. The drink was a very popular tea substitute during the American Civil war." Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications 1990

Holly wood is highly prized. It is often stained blue, green, red or black; when of the latter colour, its principal use is as a substitute for ebony, as in the handles of metal teapots and piano keys. Mathematical instruments are made of it.

Handles, fixtures, small tools etc. are made from the ivory-white, close-grained, shock-resistant wood. Floridata: Ilex opaca

Winterberry and inkberry shrubs in the holly family and are both native to North America.

In the spring, our blossom laden hollies literally hum with an abundance of insect activity. Thousands of tiny pollinators flit from greenish white flower to flower. There is a faint humming sound around the tree for a few days. We have never been bothered by any of them.

Many birds enjoy holly berries including: bluebirds, thrushes, blackbirds, wild turkeys, cedar waxwings, mourning doves, goldfinches and bobwhites.

Hollies are also larval food for Henry's elfin butterfly. NC State University Plants

This beautiful North American tree is a great yard specimen. You can prune it in early winter to add color to your home. They can also be planted to create lovely privacy screen hedges.

Identification and other facts / PLANTS database
UConn. Database of plants


American Holly tree with ripe red berries.

American Holly info



DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past. Be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

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Posted 10/24/05 Cindy O'Hora