Ilex aquifolium

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Ilex aquifolium
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Aquifoliales
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Genus: Ilex
Species: I. aquifolium
Binomial name
Ilex aquifolium

Ilex aquifolium (Holly, or European Holly to distinguish it from related species) is a species of holly native to western and southern Europe, northwest Africa and southwest Asia.[1][2][3][4]

European Holly flowers; male above, female below (leaves cut to show flowers more clearly)

It is an evergreen tree growing to 10-25 m tall and 40-80 cm (rarely 1 m or more) trunk diameter, with smooth grey bark. The leaves are 5-12 cm long and 2-6 cm broad, variable in shape; on young plants and low branches, with three to five sharp spines on each side, pointing alternately upward and downward; on higher branches of older trees with few or no spines except for the leaf tip, often entire.[3][4]

The flowers are dioecious, white, four-lobed, and pollinated by bees. The fruit is a red berry 6-10 mm diameter, containing four seeds; although mature in late autumn, they are very bitter so are rarely touched by birds until late winter after frost has made them softer and more palatable. They are slightly poisonous for people.[3][4]

Cultivation and uses

European Holly (Gaelic: cuileann) was traditionally the most sacred tree to druids and associated as the ruler of winter, ending on winter solstice. For pre-Christian pagan Romans, Holly was considered the plant of the God Saturn, celebrated at the Feast of Sol Invictus on December 25th. As a result, European Holly has always traditionally had a strong association with Christmas.

It is also a very popular ornamental tree in its native range. Dozens of cultivars have been selected, including plants with variegated, yellow, contorted, thornless, or exceptionally thorny leaves. Female clones are particularly popular, with the shoots with berries being used as a traditional Christmas decoration.

The wood is heavy, hard and white; one traditional use is (together with ebony) for chess pieces, with holly for the white pieces, and ebony for the black. Other uses include turnery, inlay work and as firewood.[5]

Outside of its native range, European Holly has been widely planted in New Zealand, the cooler areas of Australia, and the Pacific Northwest of North America; in all of these areas, concern has been expressed over its becoming an invasive species harming local native vegetation.


  1. Flora Europaea: Ilex aquifolium
  2. Med-Checklist: Ilex aquifolium
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-220013-9.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Flora of NW Europe: Ilex aquifolium
  5. Vedel, H., & Lange, J. (1960). Trees and Bushes in Wood and Hedgerow. Metheun & Co. Ltd., London.

br:Kelenn (gwez) da:Almindelig Kristtorn de:Europäische Stechpalme eo:Ilekso gl:Acivro hr:Božika io:Ilexo it:Ilex aquifolium nl:Hulst (plant) no:Kristtorn sl:Navadna bodika sv:Järnek