These small holly bushes (1-2 feet tall and wide) came with the house, and I'm trying to figure out what species they are. They've got spiny leaves, which look like either a variety of American or English holly - but it's important to me to know which, because I'm trying to plant native (and I want to know how big they're going to get).

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  • As @ Ecnerwal comments , the leaves need to be more clear. My first guess would be Burford . I doubt American because of the shine on the leaves. Burford comes in a few types including dwarf. What is the location ? Commented May 30, 2022 at 20:39
  • @blacksmith37 the location is northeastern US, if that helps? Commented May 30, 2022 at 21:21
  • Not Burford ( poor guess). As you say ,likely English or American ,although it does not match very well with the low gloss my American Hollys. Burford does not do well in zone 7 ( too cold) , American does alright in warmer side of zone 5. Commented May 31, 2022 at 0:58

1 Answer 1


Ended up IDing as American Holly (probably a cultivar, as the species is rarely planted in gardens).

  • Leaf shape is characteristic of either English or American (Chinese also has spiked leaf edges, but in a symmetrical "horned" arrangement that is hard to confuse with English/American). Despite the many species of holly in the world, only these species have the stereotypical spiny leaves.
  • Everyone says difference in glossiness is the key ID factor, but that's hard to tell when you don't have them side-by side.
  • The key is to grab a fistful of leaves in your hand: if they fold easily and don't stab you, it's probably English holly. But these leaves hurt when grabbed!

There's one significant dwarf cultivar of American holly, the Maryland Dwarf. But the leaves of this cultivar look nothing like the leaves pictured in the question:

Maryland dwarf holly close-up

Since American holly is very slow growing (as little as 6 inches a year) it's perfectly possible for this to be one of the larger cultivars even if it was planted multiple years ago.

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