Hollies

European Holly European Holly European Holly European Holly

What are they?

Our native holly is well known to most people and has a long history of association with ancient rituals and country customs. The hollies are a group of mostly evregreen trees or large shrubs (some species in other countries are deciduous), many of which are notorious for their sharply spiny leaves. In fact, our native species has a tendency to have spiny leaves only on lower branches (where they may get grazed by animals) and higher leaves are often spineless, which can lead to confusion for some people when trying to identify them. Hollies are monoecious, which means that male and female flowers are carried on separate trees. Thus, berries only appear on female trees provided there is a male tree nearby (males, of course, bear no fruit at all and the flowers simply drop after dispersing their pollen). Hollies are very popular in cultivation and many forms have been produced with variegated or different shaped leaves or with different coloured berries.

Where are they found?

The native holly is widespread and common in East Anglia in hedgerows and along roadsides in farming regions and in woodland elsewhere. Cultivated forms are commonly planted in amenity areas, on roadsides and in churchyards and cemeteries.

Identification

The identification of hollies is potentially very difficult, due to the great number of hybrids that have been produced in cultivation and the presence of these in the wider landscape - from where they may be producing hybrids of their own through cross-pollination with wild plants. Most botanists assume all hollies in the wild to be our native species and this may well be a correct assumption, given the known variation within that species, but identifying plants in urban landscapes, churchyards and even suburban roadsides can be difficult and at times perhaps impossible. This page covers some of the known species and forms that have been recorded in our region, but any plant not clearly fitting the details given below, may well be worth investigating further as a different species or cultivated form.



European Holly      Ilex aquifolium

Native and common throughout most of East Anglia as a hedgerow tree or understory tree in woodland. Flowers May to August. A tree to over 20m in the natural state, but often pruned to a hedge. Very variable in leaf shape, stem colour (green or purple) and in overall growth style. Berries usually red but may be orange or yellow, even on wild plants.

European Holly European Holly European Holly European Holly
Habit
Habit
Leaf
Leaves & berries
European Holly European Holly European Holly European Holly
Male flowers
Female flowers
Berries
Bark


Highclere Holly      Ilex x altaclarensis

A series of hybrids of cultivated origin, made by crossing Ilex aquifolium with I. perado. Widely planted in churchyards and in amenity plantings and perhaps producing hybridising with local European Holly to produce further, fertile hybrids. Flowers May to August. A tree to 12m in height. Very variable in leaf shape, stem colour (green or purple) and in overall growth style. Berries usually red but may be orange-red. Difficult to define from our native holly, but the leaves and flowers are usually larger. In particular, the leaves are typically flatter (less undulate) and broader and the leaf stalk is more often slightly winged.

Highclere Holly Highclere Holly Highclere Holly Highclere Holly
Habit
Leaves
Leaves
Leaf
Highclere Holly Highclere Holly Highclere Holly Highclere Holly
Leaves
Leaves
Male flower
Bark


Cultivated Hollies     

A wide range of holly cultivars and forms may be planted in urban areas, churchyards and even occasionally in hedgerows and woods. These varieties will mostly be forms of the European Holly or Highclere Holly but may often be difficult or impossible to identify fully. Many have variegated leaves or leaves with unusual shapes or spine arrangements; some of different coloured fruits. A few examples are shown here.

Cultivated Hollies Cultivated Hollies
Leaves
Berries