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Ilex spp.—Holly

FAMILY: Aqutfoliaceae—the Holly Family

The holly family is represented in Pennsylvania by two genera: common holly, Ilex, and mountainholly with a single species, Nemopanthusmucronatus(L.)Trel. The genus Ilex is of concern due to its mildly poisonous berries. The family consists of trees or shrubs; leaves: simple, alternate; stipules: minute, caducous; flowers: small, 4-merous, often unisexual. Many species are dioecious, containing plants that bear only male or female flowers.

PHENOLOGY: Hollies generally flower in May or June. The berries of most holly plants begin ripening in late autumn.

DISTRIBUTION: Ilex is encountered in Pennsylvania as ornamentals or as native or escaped plants. The evergreen, ornamental hollies are found in landscaping around the home where the soil is rich, acidic, and well drained. Many of the native species prefer wet woods or swamps.

PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Most species of Ilex have flowers: axillary, small, greenish white, unisexual, male and female borne on separate plants; pistillate flowers: bear stamens with reduced anthers; stammate flowers: produce as many stamens as the number of petals, often with a vestigial pistil; calyx: 4-6 lobed; petals: 4-8, slightly fused at base; fruit: a red or black berry.

POISONOUS PARTS: The berries of Ilex are mildly poisonous.

SYMPTOMS: Holly berries produce gastrointestinal disturbances (vomiting, diarrhea) and stupor when consumed in large amounts.

POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: The toxin is unknown.

CONFUSED TAXA: Holly and holly berries are easily recognized by most people because of their popularity.

SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Small children are most likely to be poisoned from ingestion of holly berries.

TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26)

OF INTEREST: The steeped berries of American holly, Ilex opaca, have been used by Amerindians as a cardiac stimulant. The dried leaves have been used by colonists and immigrants as a substitute for tea, especially during the American Civil War. Care should be taken during the Christmas season to keep children away from Ilex berries.

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