Herbs & Plants

Ilex aquifolium

Botanical Name: Ilex aquifolium
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Aquifoliales
Genus: Ilex
Species: I. aquifolium

Synonyms : Aquifolium croceum. Aquifolium heterophyllum. Aquifolium ilex. Ilex balearica

Common Names: Common holly, English holly, European holly, or Occasionally Christmas holly

Habitat: Ilex aquifolium is native to western and southern Europe, northwest Africa, and southwest Asia. It grows in most well-drained soils in scrub, hedges and woodland where it is often the dominant under-storey shrub.

Description: Ilex aquifolium is an evergreen Shrub growing to 10–25 m (33–82 ft) tall with a woody stem as wide as 40–80 cm (16–31 in), rarely 100 cm (39 in) or more, in diameter. The leaves are 5–12 cm long and 2–6 cm broad; they are evergreen, lasting about five years, and are dark green on the upper surface and lighter on the underside, oval, leathery, shiny, and about 5 to 9 cm long. In the young and in the lower limbs of mature trees, the leaves have three to five sharp spines on each side, pointing alternately upward and downward, while leaves of the upper branches in mature trees lack spines.

The flowers are white, four-lobed, and pollinated by bees. Holly is dioecious, meaning that there are male plants and female plants. The sex cannot be determined until the plants begin flowering, usually between 4 and 12 years of age. In male specimens, the flowers are yellowish and appear in axillary groups. In the female, flowers are isolated or in groups of three and are small and white or slightly pink, and consist of four petals and four sepals partially fused at the base.

The fruit only appears on female plants, which require male plants nearby to fertilise them. The fruit is a drupe (stone fruit), about 6–10 mm in diameter, a bright red or bright yellow, which matures around October or November; at this time they are very bitter due to the ilicin content[6] and so are rarely eaten until late winter after frost has made them softer and more palatable. They are eaten by rodents, birds and larger herbivores. Each fruit contains 3 to 4 seeds which do not germinate until the second or third spring.


Succeeds in most soils, including peat, chalk, gravels, sand and shales, so long as they are not water-logged, though wild plants are occasionally found in situations with standing winter water[186]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Established plants are fairly drought tolerant. Dislikes dry soils according to one report whilst another says that it succeeds in dry shade. Tolerates a pH range from 3.5 to 7.2. Succeeds in full sun or fairly dense shade, self-sown seedlings from woods and shady places making the most shade tolerant plants. Tolerant of maritime exposure though in such a situation it may lose some or all its leaves in the winter. Plants require a minimum July temperature of 12°c for good fruit production. They tolerate short periods in winter down to -15°c. Severe frosts can kill whole branches, especially if they are open to the sky. The young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. A very ornamental plant, there are many named varieties[182]. Flowers and fruits are formed on wood of the previous year’s growth. A good bee plant, the minute flowers are sweetly scented. The fruit is a valuable winter food source for birds. Resents root disturbance, especially as the plants get older. It is best to place the plants into their permanent positions as soon as possible, perhaps giving some winter protection for their first year or two. Only move the plants in May or, preferably, in September. Plants are quite slow growing, even when in good soils and situations. Trees are usually dioecious but hermaphrodite forms are available. Male and female plants must usually be grown if seed is required. Plants are capable of regenerating from the main stem both above and below ground level and, although the top may be killed in a fire, the plants will usually regrow from the base. Rabbits are particularly fond of this species and will quickly remove the bark. This species is notably resistant to honey fungus. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Not North American native, Naturalizing, Fragrant flowers, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms. In garden design, as well as the above-ground architecture of a plant, root structure considerations help in choosing plants that work together for their optimal soil requirements including nutrients and water. The root pattern is branching: a heart root, dividing from the crown into several primary roots going down and out.

Edible Uses: The leaves have been used as a tea substitute. The roasted fruit has been used as a coffee substitute. Some caution is advised here, since the fruit can be purgative and emetic.

Medicinal Uses:
Ilex aquifolium is little used in modern herbalism. The leaves are diaphoretic, expectorant, febrifuge and tonic. They can be use fresh at almost any time of the year or can be harvested in late spring and dried for later use. They are used in the treatment of intermittent fevers, rheumatism, catarrh, pleurisy etc. The juice of the fresh leaves has been successfully used in the treatment of jaundice. The berries are violently emetic and purgative. They have been used in the treatment of dropsy and as a powder they have been used as an astringent to check bleeding. The berries are toxic, especially to children, and should not be used medicinally except under professional supervision. The root has been used as a diuretic, though there are more effective diuretics available. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies – the keywords for prescribing it are ‘Hatred’, ‘Envy’, ‘Jealousy’ and ‘Suspicion

Other Uses:
Ilex aquifolium is an excellent hedge plant, tolerating hard clipping and maritime exposure and forming a dense stock-proof shelter. Plants are fairly slow growing however. The cultivar ‘Pendula’ makes a very good carpeting ground cover plant when grown as a cutting on its own roots. It can be planted up to 1.2 metres apart each way, but is fairly slow to cover the ground. Wood – strong, hard and dense, it polishes well, though it must be well dried and seasoned or else it warps badly. It is beautifully white, except at the centre of very old trees, and is highly regarded by cabinet makers though it must be well seasoned. The heartwood of mature trees is used for printing blocks, engravings, turnery etc. The wood makes a good fuel, burning well even when green. Landscape Uses:Border, Screen, Standard, Specimen.

Known Hazards: The fruit and probaby other parts of the plant contain saponins and are toxic, causing diarrhoea, vomiting and stupor. However, toxicity levels are low and it is only in very large doses that problems are likely to arise. Do not exceed recommended doses. Fruits particularly poisonous to children.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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