English Holly

Ilex aquifolium

English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is grown for its bright red berries and spiny, dark green evergreen foliage. A large shrub or small tree, English holly has become a serious invasive because of its adaptability to grow in shade or sun, and the ease with which its seeds are spread by birds. Seedlings are now commonly found in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests around the south coast, along the edges of wetlands and especially near residential areas.

English holly grows rapidly 7 to 10 m tall, casting deep shade that deprives native plants of light. Its roots effectively out-compete many native species for nutrients and water; it is a notorious water hog, thus preventing native plants from obtaining sufficient water. It can grow from seed (in berries) and vegetatively.

Leaves are thick, glossy, dark green and wavy, and 1-3 inches long, appearing alternately. They have sharp, stout spines along the edges, although leaves may be smooth on older branches. Flowers are whitish, sweetly scented and inconspicuous. Female trees produce bunches of red, yellow or orange berries in winter that are poisonous to people but not to birds.

It is still grown commercially and commonly used in decorations and floral arrangements as well as in landscapes. A few native and ornamental alternatives to plant instead of English ivy include: Holly-leafed Osmanthus; Red Elderberry; Meserve Hollies; Tall Mahonia; and San Jose Holly. Read more about these alternatives in the Grow Me Instead booklet for BC.