E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Ilex aquifolium L.
English holly
Aquifoliaceae (Holly family)

Introduction to Vascular Plants

© Brian Klinkenberg  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #88459)

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Distribution of Ilex aquifolium
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English holly is an introduced shrub or small tree species in North America that is native to western and southern Europe, northwest Africa and southwest Asia. It is widely used in garden plantings along the Pacific Coast, and is also cultivated in holly farms along the coast for the Christmas trade. It has naturalized in several US states (CA, HI, OR, WA) and two Canadian provinces (BC, ON) (USDA 2010). It is also reported from New England (Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States 2010). In BC, it is reported from the southwestern corner of the province, in the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island.

English holly is our familiar Christmas holly, and is a readily recognized, shade-tolerant, small tree/shrub species (2-5 m in height), with distinctive, often prickly (stiff, spine-like teeth), usually dark green shiny, leathery, leaves (sometimes variegated) that may be entire to lobed. It has small white, usually dioecious, flowers in the spring, and produces bright red persistent berries. Reproduction is by both seed and suckering. This species is considered a significant urban pest, and is readily dispersed by birds into forested urban areas. It can become abundant and a significant part of the understorey/tall shrub layer--shading out native species. Seedlings are frequently encountered, both in garden settings and in natural areas.

Fresh cuttings from holly trees are widely sold in BC during the Christmas period.

Species Information

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Perennial shrub or small tree; stems erect, 2-5 m tall, branched, branchlets minute-hairy.
Egg-shaped or oblong-egg-shaped, 2.5-6 cm long, entire to lobed, often with stiff spine-like teeth, shiny, evergreen, leathery.
Corollas dull white, male and female often on different plants.
Round, red berries, 7-8 mm wide, smooth, in clusters, persistent.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

Habitat / Range

Mesic forests and disturbed areas in the lowland zone; frequent in SW BC, known from SE Vancouver Island and the lower mainland; introduced from Europe.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

Additional Notes

This species is listed by the Greater Vancouver Invasive Plant Council of the twelve most problematic species in the Vancouver region. For further information about control of this species, visit their web site.


Ecological Framework for Ilex aquifolium

The table below shows the species-specific information calculated from
original data (BEC database) provided by the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.
(Updated August, 2013)

Site Information
Value / Class




Elevation (metres) 9 110 730
Slope Gradient (%) 0 18 220
Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]
2 59 360
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
1 4 7
Modal Nutrient Regime
Number of field plots
 species was recorded in:
Modal BEC Zone Class
All BEC Zones (# of stations/zone) species was recorded in: CDF(80), CWH(19)


The climate type for this species, as reported in the: "British Columbia plant species codes and selected attributes. Version 6 Database" (Meidinger et al. 2008), is cool mesothermal.

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References