Ilex aquifolium
Photo by Flickr user Kentish Plumber

English holly


  • This plant has a Plant Risk Evaluator rating of Moderate Potential Risk
  • This plant has been rated Moderate by the California Invasive Plant Council
  • This plant has a California Invasive Plant Council Alert


English holly is an evergreen shrub or small tree native to Europe, western Asia, and north Africa that has been traditionally used for Christmas decorations. It has glossy, spiny leaves and female plants produce red berries if a male plant is present. It was introduced to the Pacific Northwest in 1869.

In California it is not widely distributed as an invasive, and is found mainly in the northwestern part of the state and around the San Francisco Bay Area, where it is found in moist coastal forests, riparian areas and riparian areas of forests and woodlands. CalWeedMapper shows its current distribution in California outside of cultivation.

Birds and mammals consume the fruit, dispersing the seeds. Female plants begin producing fruit at 5-12 years of age, so it can be controlled by removing plants before they start producing seed.

Many cultivars exist, some of which produce seedless berries without a pollenizer, and some of which are male.

Why is this plant not included on the invasive plant list?

English holly was included as a candidate plant in the 2016 nursery survey. It was found at 4.3% of stores, but nearly all the plants found were cultivars (a cultivated variety) and not the straight species, which is what’s on the Cal-IPC Inventory and has invaded wildlands. For that reason, it was not deemed a high enough priority for addition to the plant list.

More information

For more information about this plant, please see the following resources: