Species list


Ilex aquifolium


Holly, common holly, English holly, European holly (Eng), acebo (Spa), grèvol (Cat), gorosti, gorostia (Baq), acibo, acebiño (gall,); azevinho (Por).


“The ground was hard as iron, the frost still rigorous; as he brushed among the hollies, icicles jingled and glittered in their fall”.

‘The misadventures of John Nicholson’, Robert Louis Stevenson


Holly is a very dense, branching shrub or tree that can be up to 12 m tall. The bark and branches are smooth and grey. The leaves are persistent, simple, alternate, more or less oval and generally have a spiny margin. They are up to 8 cm long, dark green and hairless on both sides, differentiating this species from the from the kermes oak (Quercus coccifera L.), whose leaves are much smaller and paler coloured, and the holm oak, which has slightly smaller leaves with a velvety underside. Both the holm oak and kermes oak live in much drier environments than holly. There are both male and female specimens. The males have whitish flowers that often go unnoticed, but once fertilised, the females produce globose, pea-sized fruits, which are green at first and turn bright red when ripe.


This tree can form dense and impenetrable stands, but more often it is found together with deciduous woodlands (e.g., oak, beech, or chestnut forests) or humid evergreen woods (yew, pine and even holm oak forests in sheltered situations that have sufficient humidity and shade). It is indifferent to soil type, but does best in acidic substrates. The leaf canopy of holly formations is very important for the ecosystem, as it provides favourable temperature and humidity conditions, making it an ideal shelter for many animals in the winter. The fauna also takes advantage of the fruits as food.


Holly is a central European and Mediterranean plant that does not range very far into northern Europe. It also lives in northwestern Africa and southeastern Asia. On the Iberian Peninsula it is most abundant in the northern region and further south it is found in the mountains and hillier areas.