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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Dahoon Holly Tree (Ilex cassine)

By Staff | Jan 7, 2015

First impression: Bright red clusters of pea-sized fruit never ending, decorating a lovely tree. The two-toned leaves dark green on top and light green on bottom add contrast to the berries.

I notice a sharp prick at the end of each leaf to ensure some of the fruit goes to seed. The trunk of the tree is a cement gray color that is mottled and textured. It’s January in paradise and, gee, we finally get some sign of the season! You can see holly berries just in time for the winter months, adorning our festive tree at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: I discover that we have female holly trees. The Dahoon Holly only has seasonal berries if they are of the female gender. They are in the order of species whose male and female flowers occur on separate plants. This may explain to some of you gardeners why your Dahoon hasn’t fruited!

During wintertime the female trees are covered with orange, red or yellow berries; the males are not. Both sexes are covered with flowers which are tiny and white and slightly fragrant. True to holly leaves, they have a few small sharp teeth plus a sharp bristle at the tip. These barbs are to protect those delicious red berries that attract hungry birds in the winter. How cool to reward our outside critters with this delicious treat during the wintertime!

Of course I have also seen many a well-fed gardener trimming their holly to decorate their homes inside. Luckily Mother Nature thought of everyone and our Holly is laden with multitudes of berries. The slender trunk and limb bark are very attractive with contrasting light gray color.

Our star is an evergreen tree that has a lovely natural shape. She is a slow growing small tree that will reach 20-30 feet tall and up to 15 feet wide. Eye-catching in season, the fruit is a lipstick red color which really makes this a striking tree. Very versatile, holly can be planted in full sun or deep shade. She will tolerate wet feet, so try her out for littoral plantings even if water is brackish. Native status puts it in the little or no pests and disease category. Interesting trivia: In days gone by, roasted leaves were used to brew a non-caffeinated tea.


Does well in moist soil

Likes full sun to partial shade

Attractive when fruiting & non fruiting

Insect damage minimal

Birds love the fruit


Great for decorations

Drought tolerant

No muss, no fuss holiday tree (decorates itself)

Great thorny tree for nesting birds

Salt tolerant.

Cons: Daily clean up dried fruit when not picked

Neighbors may be stealing berries for decorations

Barbed leaves

Slow grower

Only female trees bear berries.

Conclusion: Need some inspiration after the holidays to keep your spirits up? You’ve got to see these Ho Ho Ho berries and no snow still adorning our trees in our tropical garden location.

Don’t wanna miss this fruiter!