American Holly — December 2012 Tree of the Month

T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

The Ewing Township Environmental Commission recognizes the American Holly (Ilex opaca) as the Tree of the Month for December. This beautiful native tree, found in the wild as well as in gardens and parks, brightens the holiday season with its evergreen, shiny leaves and red, yellow, or orange berries.

Hollies are dioecious, that is, they are either male or female, and in order for berries to be produced, a female tree must have a male neighbor somewhere nearby to pollinate it. The tree pictured here, located in the Mountain View area, is a male, as it has no berries.

The American Holly can reach a height of 30 to 40 feet with a spread of 18 to 40 feet, and grows slowly. It is hardy from zones 5 to 9.

There are many varieties of Ilex opaca in the ornamental trade, some with variegated leaves and some, as noted above, with yellow or orange berries. It can be trained into a hedge or used as a specimen plant. The shape is usually pyramidal.

Ideally this holly requires an acid, moist but well-drained soil. It is shade tolerant, but has a more compact habit when grown in the sun. The flowers, borne on both male and female trees, are small and inconspicuous, but provide nectar to insects and the berries provide food for over 20 species of birds.

This species is affected by several insects and fungi, including holly leaf miner, scale and powdery mildew. Good growing conditions, of course, help keep these problems at a minimum.

The fine-grained, hard wood is used for piano keys, cabinetry, inlays, and small musical instruments. George Washington’s famous wooden dentures were made of American holly wood.

The Ewing Environmental Commission (eec@ewingnj.org)  welcomes suggestions for the Tree of the Month from all Ewing residents.

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