Appalachia Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

A Big Holly Tree


On our last hike up the creek The Deer Hunter said he wanted to show us the biggest holly tree he’d ever seen. Chitter has her hand on the trunk of it in the photo above. We were all amazed by the size of the tree. The Deer Hunter said he stumbled upon it years ago on a coon hunting trip.


After a quick google I was surprised to learn Holly trees can grow even larger than the one up the creek. Here’s some information from the NC Extension website:

Ilex opaca
Common Name(s):
American holly, Holly
The Ilex opaca range is from as far north as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and south into Florida and Texas.

This majestic tree can reach heights of 30 to 50 feet with an overall shape that resembles a pyramid. The younger the tree is the more pyramidal the overall shape will be. As the tree matures the shape becomes less pyramidal. It can be single or multi-trunked.

When the pilgrims first landed, the spiny, evergreen leaves and red berries reminded them of their native English Holly. They began using this plant in holiday decorations and gave it the nickname Christmas holly.

The bark is gray-white in color and may be splotched or warty.

This plant is moderately salt tolerant.

Regions: Mountain, Piedmont, Coastal Plains

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom: Spring Fruit/Seed/Nut: Fall

Wildlife Value: It is a host plant for the Henry’s Elfin butterfly and provides nectar for adult butterflies and other insects. Its fruits are eaten by songbirds, wild turkeys, quail, white-tailed deer, squirrels and other small mammals. Honeybees are attracted to its tiny white flowers. Members of the genus Ilex support the following specialized bee: Colletes banksi. This tree provides cover during the winter. The American holly is highly deer resistant.

Notes: More likely 15-30′ under normal landscape conditions

30-60 ft.
The American Holly is dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate trees). It has greenish-white flowers bloom May-June (male flowers in 3-12 flowered clusters and female flowers solitary or in 2’s or 3’s). It also produces bright red or orange fruits (drupes to 1/4- 1/2″ diameter) which ripen in fall on pollinated female trees, and persist on the tree through the winter. It must have both sexes in order to produce its fruit.

Red berries on female plants

The Holly tree up the creek is by no means a record breaker, but in our neck of the woods it is indeed the largest Holly tree I’ve ever seen. There’s a fairly large Holly tree in front of the Keith House at the John C. Campbell Folk School. The tree is split between several trunks, none are as large at the one up the creek, but combined they are larger. You can go here to read about he holly and she holly.


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  • Reply
    lynn legge
    December 12, 2018 at 1:37 am

    tipper i too never knew they were a tree…always thought of them as a bush……but still the same…would love all that on hand for wreaths and centerpieces….
    hope you and yours have a blessed holiday.
    thanks for all your hard work on this blog..i for one cherish it and am blessed to have had your stories and music.
    big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    Brian P.T. Blake
    December 11, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    This post and everyone’s cheerful, down-home comments tell this fan of Tipper’s that Christmas is only two weeks away. Time to light the fire and spike the eggnog. Grandma and grandpa (that’s me) await our son and his family coming up from the city. Little Finn William will be twenty months old on 28 December, his second Yule-tide holiday. A Deer Hunter for sure!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 11, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    I just got back from a foray into the woods behind my house. There is a big holly back there about 8 feet from my property line. I measured the base at 13 inches. It looks to be about 30-40 feet tall. I’ve had my eye on it for years but my conscience won’t let me cut it. It’s not mine.
    You know I could cut it and if anybody complained I could tell them the snow broke it down and it fell on my property. The problem with that is hollys don’t break under a snow load.
    There is still about 8 inches of snow back there but it is frozen on top so I only sink about 2 inches into it.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 11, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    I love Holly trees…Only, do not go barefoot near them in the early summer…for some of those thorny leaves may have turned yellow, fallen and waiting on tender toes. They will drop old leaves and bring on beautiful fresh green leathery ones this time of year. Hardly noticeable, like our deciduous trees. They just sort of slip in there. One has to look for them growing off the limbs. Touch a few they are soft and pliable unlike when they are mature leaves…
    We have a very large one in our back yard and a few more scattered about in our woodland. The backyard tree was saved from destruction by my husband. This when a new ground was being razed for construction for a new softball park. He dug up three little sprigs less than a foot or so. We knew we needed a male and female tree and of course the smaller the sprouts the better chance for them to live…We planted them. One in the back yard. The other in the woodlands edge of the yard… The one in the back yard grew and grew and is still growing…Long past the time it should have red berries…NOT…so we assume since we couldn’t find the sprouts thru the years of the planted close by other trees that they didn’t make it…
    Still, this tree is so pretty…When I get branches from it and want red berries, I just add those little red round Christmas balls…
    Loved this post..
    Thanks Tipper,
    Hope you have enough milk and bread…looks like another wet and maybe snowy weekend coming up!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 11, 2018 at 11:19 am

    My Daddy use to work for some Rich Folks up in the holler, across from the Topton Baptist Church
    where we attended. They were all Yankees, but they were all Nice to us. Daddy was at work for the
    Benhams one day and it was time for Christmas and Mrs. Benham asked daddy where she could get some Christmas Holley. Daddy told her “my boys takes our .22 Rifle and shoots Mistletoe with white berries and Holley for us all the time. When we took her a couple of Polkfulls, she paid us
    $2.00 a bag and told her friends about us. We thought we were Rich! At least we were able to get
    us a dope and a Moon Pie at Big Fists Gulf Station.

    That is the tallest Holley Tree I ever saw. They usually don’t get that tall. I use to Deer Hunt over
    in Big Choga and there was a field, near the mountain, just Red with Berries around the 20th of
    November. Bob Mason would take us boys to drive out Deer, barking like dogs over there. He couldn’t walk very far and he had us youngsters to do most of the walking. …Ken

    • Reply
      Ronny D
      December 11, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      Hi Tippe,
      We have a huge Holly tree on our property that is at least 2 foot in diameter, it is a huge beautiful tree. I really enjoy reading your posts! Thanks keep up the excellent work!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    December 11, 2018 at 11:08 am

    I used to wade fish in the Caney creek gorge in Elliot co. Ky. and that is where I seen the tallest holly trees ever. They weren’t big in diameter but must be over 40 ft. tall. From the time the seed sprouted the seedlings fought for sun light and they only have limbs at the top. They are beautiful to look at and they are on Govt. property, so they will be persevered.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Mama had two big holly trees in her yard, one in the front yard and one in the back. Every now and then, I ride by there, and they are still standing.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 11, 2018 at 9:55 am

    When I moved here 25 years ago there was a holly stump in my upper yard that had a ring of sprouts growing out of it. I tied them all together into a tight bundle. Some of the sprouts died but five or six grew together and formed a central trunk which looks like a single tree but all of them have their own top. It is a twisted tangled, almost knit, mass of limbs and twigs. Little birds love to build their nests inside it because bigger birds can’t get through the maze. Even cats don’t dare enter. Black snakes however are not deterred in the least. More than once I have heard the birds crying for help and gone and dragged out a four foot long reptile.
    I don’t like to kill black snakes so I carry them some distance away and release them. However if they come back a second time there is no third time.
    Holly wood is my preference for carving. I gather the wood in winter, immediately debark it and seal the ends and knots with hot wax. It needs about two years to dry properly but there minimal splitting and absolutely no checking. Once the wood is dry you can cut off the split ends and the rest of it is very stable. Pardon the details!
    As you know holly makes fine mini-dough rollers and Easter eggs. And even fiddle sticks!

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    December 11, 2018 at 9:08 am

    I think there are holly trees in the East Texas Big Thicket, but I didn’t know they got so big.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2018 at 8:53 am

    The leaves from a Holly tree make wonderful Christmas decorations. Being the crafty person you are, I’m thinking you couldn’t resist taking a few limbs home. There is a huge Holly tree in the yard down the road. It is the fullest tree I have ever seen. It’s probably not an American Holly, but likely bought from a nursery and planted there many years ago.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2018 at 8:44 am

    I have 2 huge Holly trees on my property; they’re both 30′ tall and loaded with berries every year. The trees are home to Hummingbirds in Spring/Summer; food for Bees, and food and shelter for Robins and Grackles in the Fall as well as a source of incredible joy all year long. They’re at least 30 years old and from what I’ve been able to decipher, they are “offspring” from my neighbor’s Holly tree.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 11, 2018 at 8:37 am

    That is a big one alright. The American holly is a favorite tree of mine. As kids we would go gather holly and hemlock for Christmas decorations. Of course we always looked for trees with berries. I have seen one wild holly with yellow berries.

    Remember the line from “The Holly and the Ivy” that says, “of all the trees in the wood the holly wears the crown.”

    Holly, like white pine and hemlock, are increasing in numbers in the woods since the folkway of burning the woods stopped around 1920 or so. Birds spread the seed and they root sprout to I think.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2018 at 8:34 am

    My neighbor has two of those 50 to 60 footers in her yard. Her parents bought the house in 1925, and she says that the trees were there then. She also reports that the biggest one hasn’t grown any in all those years, the smaller one has grown a little, but still is a little smaller than the other.
    A stranger came by right before Christmas one year and asked her if he could have some holly . She told him to get all he wanted, thinking that he wanted a little to decorate with. He came back in about an hour with a truck and a chainsaw. Luckily, she saw him in time, and sent him on his way before he cut the whole tree down.
    My husband had to cut a small holly when we built our church a few years back. The wood is a creamy white. He turned some pretty bowls from it.

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    December 11, 2018 at 8:16 am

    I have holly trees growing in my fence rows and try to trim out around them so that they can grow naturally. I love them and the old cedars. My Dad said if it wasn’t cedar it wasn’t a Christmas tree.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 11, 2018 at 8:00 am

    I did not know that they grow tall. I’ve always thought of them as a Holly Bush, in fact that is what I’ve heard them called.
    They certainly are lovely and because they are red and green I always think of them as Christmas ornamentation.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 11, 2018 at 7:55 am

    Tipper–There a he holly on the property adjacent to where we grew up (and where Br’er Don no lives) which dwarfs this one, and there are multiple specimens on Bryson Island in Bryson City (just up the river from the downtown area) which are even larger. Don may have done some exact measurement work on the one near his house. It’s got to be quite old, since in vintage photos going back close to 100 years it looks much the same, size-wise, as it is today.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Sheryl A Paul
    December 11, 2018 at 7:47 am

    That is a beautiful tree

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 11, 2018 at 7:37 am

    • Reply
      aw griff
      December 11, 2018 at 11:18 am

      Ed. Beautiful song

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    December 11, 2018 at 6:31 am

    Well written… We tend to take these wonderful trees for granted because they seem to grow everywhere. For some reason, I let them grow, whereever.

    It’s like when a Beatles song comes on the car radio. You have to let it play to the end out of respect for what these mopheads meant to an entire generation. I respect the Holly for what it stands for… Christmas, snow, history.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2018 at 5:26 am

    That is a nice one, don’t believe I’ve ever run across one that big. I wonder why? You’d think as many as you’ve seen, there would be larger ones spaced about somewhere.

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