The Ilex are trees and shrubs very popular in gardens in temperate regions, but also in the rest of the world during Christmas. And, as you can see in the image above, its fruits are very, very decorative.

Although its leaves are armed with thorns, this does not detract from their ornamental value. In fact, thanks to this they can serve, for example, as a protective hedge. In addition, over time their glasses give a cool and pleasant shade.

Origin and characteristics of the Ilex

The genus of the Ilex is composed of about 400 species of trees and shrubs, deciduous or evergreen depending on the variety, most of them originating in the Northern Hemisphere. They tend to grow slowly, reaching between 2 and 25 meters in height. The leaves are simple, whole, with a toothed and spiny margin.

In general, they have male flowers and female flowers in different specimens, that is, they are dioecious. The fruit is a berry, usually red in color, which despite its appearance, is not suitable for human consumption, but for example it serves as sustenance for birds during winter. Inside we will find between one and ten seeds.

Main species

The most popular Ilex species are the following:

Ilex aquifolium

Ilex aquifolium ‘Golden Milkboy’// Image – Flickr/ Leonora (Ellie) Enking

The Ilex aquifolium is an evergreen tree or shrub native to western Asia and Europe, known as holly. It reaches a height of 6 to 20 meters, and has a pyramidal bearing, with a dense crown.

Since ancient times it has been given many uses. For example, in popular medicine its leaves have been used in infusion as diuretics and laxatives; Its high ornamental value makes it cultivated in gardens, as well as being used as an ornament in homes during Christmas. In addition, its wood is appreciated in cabinetmaking.

However, and incidentally also fortunately, it is a protected species in many European countries, among which is Spain.

Ilex canariensis

Image – Wikimedia/ Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz

The Ilex canariensis, known as acebiño, is an evergreen shrub or tree 10 meters high endemic to Macaronesia. Its leaves are ovate in shape, and are shiny, with entire or somewhat spiny edges. It produces rounded, red fruits with a size of about one centimeter.

It is a typical plant of the Canarian laurel forests, which tends to produce suckers that will replace the mother plant when it dries.

Ilex crenata

Image – Flickr/ SuperFantastic

The Ilex crenata is an evergreen shrub native to Asia, specifically China, Japan, Korea and Sakhalin, called Japanese holly. It grows to a height of 3 to 5 meters normally, although it can reach 10 meters. Its leaves are small, glossy dark green, and have wavy margins.

Due to its characteristics, it is one of the best species of the genus to work as a low hedge.

Opaque ilex

The Ilex opaca is an evergreen tree native to the eastern United States that grows up to 20 meters in height, although it can reach 30 meters. The leaves are dull green and dull, being paler on the underside than on the upper side. Its flowers are greenish-white, and small.

Ilex paraguariensis

Image – Wikimedia/ H. Zell

The Ilex paraguariensis, known as yerba mate, yerba del Paraguay or yerba de los Jesuitas, is an evergreen tree that grows wild in the Alto Paraná and some of the Paraguay River accounts. It grows up to 15 meters in height, with a trunk about 30 centimeters in diameter. It produces alternate leaves, with a toothed margin, and dark green.

It is a widely cultivated plant, since its leaves, chewed or infused, are non-addictive stimulants.

Ilex perado

Image – Wikimedia/ Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz

The Ilex perado, known as the wild orange tree or bojo, is an evergreen tree endemic to Macaronesia. It reaches a height of 15 meters, and has large leaves, ovate to almost rounded, with a somewhat spiny margin.

Ilex serrata

Image – Wikimedia/ Alpsdake

The Ilex serrata, known as Japanese deciduous holly is a shrub native to China and Japan, which reaches a height of 4.5 meters. The leaves are elliptical, with a toothed margin, and of a dull green color. The flowers are pink, and its berries are red.

It is widely grown as bonsai, since it tolerates pruning very well, as well as weak frosts (down to -5ºC).

How do you take care of holly trees?

Growing a holly in the garden, or on the patio, can be a good idea, but first it is necessary to know what care to provide:

  • Location: these are plants that must always be, throughout the year, outside the home, in a sunny or partially shaded exposition.
  • Land: they do not have many demands, but it is recommended that they be fertile and that they do not tend to flood easily.
  • Irrigation: the frequency will be moderate. During the hot and dry season it is advisable to water about 3 times a week, but the rest of the year the waterings will be more spaced.
  • Subscriber: it is interesting to add organic fertilizers, of organic origin, throughout the spring and summer.
  • Pruning: can be pruned in late winter, after the last frosts.
  • Rusticity: will vary depending on the species. There are some, such as I. serrata, which can endure up to -5ºC, but I. aquifolium is resistant up to -18ºC.

What do you think of the Ilex?

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