With the holiday season right around the corner, we will start to see American holly “decking the halls” with their bright ruby berries and shiny evergreen leaves. American holly is slow growing, but can reach anywhere from 25 all the way to 60 feet tall and spread as wide as 18 to 40 feet around. This mighty tree provides a delicious snack to many songbirds, gamebirds, and even some mammals; however, it is important to know that these berries are bitter and poisonous to humans. Animals make use of American holly for more than just a snack, too; it serves as a larval host plant for the Henry’s Elfin Butterfly, and the dense, prickly foliage can even provide some animals and their nests protection against hungry predators. American holly is native to the Eastern and Central United States, and can be found from Massachusetts all the way down to Florida on the east coast.
American holly is a dioecious tree. This means each tree has either a staminate (a male plant) or a pistillate (a female plant). The staminate is the pollinator, and must be near the pistillate in order for that female to produce berries. If the staminate is approximately 40 feet from a pistillate, it is capable of pollinating up to three new female plants. In the late spring, between May and June, greenish white flowers begin to blossom on these trees. Male flowers blossom in flower clusters of 3-12, and female flowers blossom as either singular flowers, or in a cluster of no more than three.
American hollies can tolerate moderately shaded areas, but thrive in sunny environments. They prefer moist, slightly acidic soil with a pH ranging from 3.5 to 6, though problems such as root rot can occur if the soil is too wet or too basic. American hollies are prone to contracting fungal infections, but most are typically benign and do not affect the health of the tree.
American hollies are generally very easy to grow, drought tolerant, and for the most part deer resistant, which is great for Long Island residents that have an overwhelming deer population.
By Abigail Bolliver