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Ilex aquifolium

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Aquifoliaceae (Holly)
Also in this family:
Evergreen shrub
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
15 metres tall
Fields, gardens, hedgerows, mountains, parks, roadsides, scrub, wasteland, woodland.

White, 4 petals
4 white petals in clusters, sometimes tinted purple. Male and female flowers often on different trees.
Bright red, showy berries.
A slow growing, compact, evergreen shrub. Smooth, shiny, leathery, hard leaves with prickly edges.
Sweet-scented flowers.
Other Names:
Christmas Holly, Common Holly, English Holly, European Holly.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Ilex aquifolium, commonly known as English holly or European holly, is a species of holly native to Europe, western Asia and north Africa. Holly is a large evergreen shrub or small tree. The leaves are glossy and spiny, and the plant produces small, white flowers in the spring, followed by red berries in the winter. The berries are often used for holiday decorations and the plant is often associated with Christmas. The plant is also known for its hardiness and can tolerate a wide range of soils and growing conditions.


Holly, scientifically known as Ilex aquifolium, is a species of evergreen tree or shrub that belongs to the Aquifoliaceae family. It is a widely distributed plant, found throughout Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. Holly is also commonly grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and parks, valued for its glossy leaves, bright red berries, and traditional associations with Christmas.

Physical Description

Holly is an evergreen tree or shrub that can reach up to 15 meters in height, although it is usually smaller in gardens and parks. The leaves are dark green, glossy, and leathery, with sharp spines along the edges, which serve as a defense mechanism against browsing animals. The flowers are small, white or pink, and appear in the spring. The fruit of the holly is a bright red berry, which ripens in the autumn and is a valuable source of food for birds.

Cultural Significance

Holly has been valued for its cultural and symbolic significance for centuries. In ancient Celtic mythology, holly was associated with the winter solstice and the festival of Yule. In Christian tradition, holly is associated with Christmas and is often used as a decoration during the holiday season. The sharp spines on the leaves of holly are said to represent the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ, and the red berries are said to symbolize his blood.


Holly has a variety of uses in traditional medicine, folklore, and industry. The leaves and berries of holly contain a number of compounds with medicinal properties, including caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. In traditional medicine, holly has been used to treat fever, rheumatism, and digestive problems. In folklore, holly was believed to ward off evil spirits and protect against witchcraft. In industry, the hard, dense wood of holly is used for carving and turning, and the leaves and berries are used for making wreaths and decorations.


Despite its widespread distribution, holly is facing a number of threats in the wild, including habitat loss, overgrazing, and climate change. The loss of holly habitat has resulted in declines in populations of the plant, and efforts are being made to conserve holly populations and protect the plant's genetic diversity. In addition, holly is often cultivated as an ornamental plant, and efforts are being made to select and propagate holly varieties that are resistant to disease and pests.

More Information about Holly

Holly is not just an important cultural and ornamental plant, but it also has ecological significance. The evergreen foliage of holly provides year-round cover and shelter for wildlife, and the bright red berries are a valuable source of food for many bird species, including blackbirds, thrushes, and waxwings. Holly is also a host plant for a number of moth and butterfly species, providing habitat and food for their larvae.

In addition to its ecological significance, holly also has practical uses. The hard, dense wood of holly is used for making tool handles, turnery, and inlay work. The bark and leaves of holly have also been used for tanning leather, and the berries have been used to make ink and dyes.

Holly is a versatile plant that has been appreciated for its aesthetic, cultural, ecological, and practical significance for centuries. Its glossy leaves and bright red berries make it a popular ornamental plant, while its cultural significance has made it an important symbol during the holiday season. As efforts are made to conserve and protect holly populations, it is important to remember the many benefits that this remarkable plant provides to humans and wildlife alike.

Holly is also a plant that has been the subject of folklore and superstitions throughout history. In some cultures, holly was believed to bring good luck, while in others it was believed to be a sign of impending death. Holly has also been associated with fertility and was sometimes used in wedding ceremonies.

In addition to its traditional uses in medicine, holly has also been studied for its potential health benefits. The leaves and berries of holly contain a variety of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which may have potential health benefits for conditions such as arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential health benefits of holly.

In addition to the species Ilex aquifolium, there are around 400 species of Ilex plants, including both evergreen and deciduous species, with a wide distribution across the world. Some of these other species are also used for their ornamental and practical uses. For example, the American holly (Ilex opaca) is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant and is also used for making wreaths and decorations. The Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) was historically used by Native Americans for its caffeine-containing leaves, which were used to make a tea-like beverage.

Holly is also a popular subject in art and literature. From medieval illuminated manuscripts to modern Christmas cards, holly has been a popular motif in art and design. In literature, holly has been used as a symbol of rebirth, renewal, and endurance. In the Harry Potter series, holly is a significant symbol, representing protection and strength against evil.

Holly also plays a role in the folklore and traditions of various cultures. In Celtic mythology, holly was associated with winter and the winter solstice, and was believed to ward off evil spirits. In Norse mythology, holly was associated with the god Thor and was believed to protect against lightning strikes.

In Christianity, holly is often associated with Christmas and the birth of Jesus. The sharp leaves of holly were believed to symbolize the crown of thorns that Jesus wore during his crucifixion, while the red berries were said to represent his blood. Holly is often used in Christmas decorations, such as wreaths and garlands, and is also a popular subject in Christmas carols and songs.

Holly has also played a role in traditional medicine. The leaves and berries of holly were used in traditional European medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including fever, coughs, and rheumatism. Holly leaves were also used in traditional Chinese medicine for their analgesic properties.

Despite its cultural significance and practical uses, many species of holly are threatened by habitat loss, overharvesting, and disease. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore holly populations, including efforts to promote sustainable harvesting practices and to raise awareness of the ecological and cultural importance of holly.

Random Facts about Holly

Here are some facts about Holly:

  1. Holly is an evergreen shrub or small tree that belongs to the genus Ilex.

  2. The scientific name for holly is Ilex aquifolium.

  3. Holly is native to Europe, western Asia, and North Africa.

  4. Holly leaves are typically glossy and spiky, with a dark green color.

  5. Holly produces bright red berries that are popular with birds.

  6. Holly is a popular ornamental plant, especially during the winter holidays.

  7. Holly has cultural significance in various traditions and is associated with Christmas, winter solstice, and protection against evil spirits.

  8. Holly has practical uses, such as for making tool handles, turnery, and inlay work, and its leaves and berries have been used for tanning leather and making ink and dyes.

  9. Holly has potential health benefits due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.

  10. Holly is threatened by habitat loss, overharvesting, and disease, and conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore holly populations.

In summary, holly is a versatile plant with ecological, cultural, and practical significance. It is a popular ornamental plant, has potential health benefits, and is associated with various traditions and folklore. However, holly is also threatened by various factors, and conservation efforts are important to protect and restore holly populations.


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Distribution Map

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