This plant has spring up from a dry area that is sparsely covered. It has distinctive spiky leaves which resemble a Holly but so far I've failed to match it. There isn't anything in the vicinity where I found this that has a matching leaf.

unknown plant

  • 1
    Why do you think it's not a holly? IMO it look like a very young holly tree. The leaves on holly are quite variable in shape. The seed may have come from bird poo, and the parent tree might be miles away.
    – alephzero
    Dec 29, 2018 at 16:01
  • 1
    Agree with previous comment, looks like holly (Ilex, most likely Ilex aquifolium). If we knew where you were, and it was in Europe or the UK, I'd have said that's definitely what it is, these pop up all the time...
    – Bamboo
    Dec 29, 2018 at 16:17
  • They are common if there are any holly trees within "flying range". But the curious thing is that in 50 years I've never seen one much smaller than the OP's picture. They seem to pop out of the ground 6 inches tall with 5 or 10 leaves on them overnight!
    – alephzero
    Dec 29, 2018 at 18:05
  • 1
    You just haven't noticed them - I pulled out 8 seedlings this year in one spot, 3 of which only had two true leaves, the largest was about the size of the one in this image, so tiny ones do exist! What amazes me is just the sheer number of seeds which germinate freely...
    – Bamboo
    Dec 29, 2018 at 19:26
  • @alephzero That is what happened here. It just sprung up, very quickly, out of nowhere in a place that nothing else grows. I was wondering if this was a plant (desirable) or a weed (undesirable). This may be a case of watching it to see what the flowers look like.
    – Underverse
    Dec 30, 2018 at 1:10

3 Answers 3


This appears to be a holly seedling, most likely Ilex aquifolium; these are commonly dropped by passing birds and germinate readily. Ilex are dioecious plants, and the only way to tell whether a plant is male or female is to wait and see if it produces berries, or examine the flowers closely when it's old enough to produce some - info on that here https://www.thespruce.com/difference-in-male-and-female-holly-bushes-2132269

They grow at a reasonable rate, getting up to 12 metres in height with a spread of 4-8 metres - deciding whether you want to keep it or not is best done early, because removing them once they're a reasonable size is not a comfortable experience!


My first guess would be a holly tree, but if not, could it be a mahonia? We have 2 common types on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, commonly called grape hyacinth. Mahonia Nervosa grows about knee high and Mahonia aquifolium can grow 5 to 8 feet in the right growing situation. The berries of both varieties are edible but not very sweet-good to make jelly, but not to eat fresh. There are perhaps 60or 70 other variations of the mahonia also. I see this question was asked 3 years ago, so the plant is either removed or big enough to better identify now.

Trudy from Victoria BC


Not American holly, not Leather leaf Mahonia. Both have relatively symmetric leaves with typically 9 or 11 needles on each leaf. Not random needles. Where are you located ? Hollies like warm conditions like Zones 7 and 8 in the US ( I know they will grow beyond these zones, I even had one survive a couple years in zone 5). I have about a dozen native hollies and several planted mahonia on my modest lot in zone 8.

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