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Plant of the Week: Oak Leaf Holly

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

Plant of the Week

Oak Leaf Holly
Latin: Ilex hybrid

Picture of holly leaves
Oak Leaf holly yellows some in the winter but has shown no sign of winter injury in zone 6.

Hollies are a big, diverse group of plants gardeners sometimes stereotype according to previous experiences with the clan.

Stereotyping such beautiful and useful plants based on experience with just a few individuals is – well, wrong. Each has its own personality and charm and should be judged on its own merits. A new one that has caught my eye is Oak Leaf holly, a stocky upright destined to enjoy wide usage as it becomes better known.

What are the characteristics of an Oak Leaf Holly?

Oak Leaf holly is an upright grower capable of reaching 20 feet in height with a spread of at least eight feet. It has a columnar form approaching a pyramidal shape but doesn’t quite achieve it. It forms a dark, almost brooding form in the landscape.

Oak Leaf has evergreen, dark green leaves that emerge purple-green in the spring. They are to three inches long and 1¼-inch wide with three to five prominent pairs of eighth-inch long spines. If blessed with a good imagination the leaves of this holly do look a bit like some oak leaves.


Unlike most hollies, Oak Leaf is a hermaphrodite, containing functionally male and female flower parts in each flower. Therefore, it will be self-fruitful without need for a male pollinator. The flowers are greenish-white, four-petaled, borne in clusters at the nodes but with no ornamental appeal. The berries are orange-red, pea-sized and persist through most of the winter.

What is the origin of the Oak Leaf Holly?

Oak Leaf is one of the “Red Hollies” selected by nurseryman Jack Magee at Evergreen Nurseries in Poplaville, Miss. It was patented in 1995 under the cultivar name of ‘Conaf’ but has been marketed by Flowerwood Nursery of Mobile, Ala., only under the trademarked name of Oak Leaf. Magee introduced five red hollies, but Oak Leaf is the one exciting the most attention.

In 2002, Magee patented Oakland Holly (‘Magland’), a son-of-Oak Leaf that arose as a branch sport from the original plant. It has the general look of Oak Leaf but is more compact with the leaves spaced more closely on the stems. It will probably reach the height of the original introduction but take more years to do so.

In the 1980s, Magee planted seeds from a ‘Mary Nell’ holly at his nursery. It’s a glossy- leafed, pyramidal plant developed by the late Dr. Joe McDaniel, a professor of horticulture at the University of Illinois who was working at Tom Dodd Nursery in Semmes, Ala., when he made the cross in 1962. Mary Nell is a three-way hybrid named after McDaniel’s wife. The female parent was an Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’ holly by I. pernyi ‘Red Delight’; the male was I. latifolia, the Lusterleaf holly. Mary Nell, a non-patented female clone, was named in 1981. Oak Leaf is from an open pollinated cross so it is uncertain who the male parent was.

What are the best uses of Oak Leaf and Oakland Hollies in the landscape?

Oak Leaf and Oakland are both large plants suitable for use as specimens, hedging or massing for screening. They are too big for crowding in the foundation planting, so make sure they have room to develop. Like all hollies, it responds well to shearing.

How do I care for an Oak Leaf Holly?

Oak Leaf is hardy from zone 6 to 9b. It has a moderate growth rate, putting on a foot of growth during the spring flush and then growing more or less continually during the summer as long as there is sufficient moisture. It grows in full sun or light shade and is not particular about soil type. It has performed well in clay or sand but the pH should be between 5.2 and 6.8 for best results. To date it has been very disease and insect resistant.

For more information on care check out our publication Hollies in the Home Garden


By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - April 20, 2007


The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.