A few months ago I was asked about the American Holly tree and its wood. About the only thing I knew was that its leaves and berries were traditionally used for Christmas decorations. So, I did a little research and in the process thought it might make a good topic for this newsletter.
The American Holly (Ilex Opaca) grows along the Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, and Mississippi Valley. It is sometimes called white holly, evergreen holly, and boxwood. The tree has leathery, evergreen leaves 2" to 4" long and 1" - 2" wide with a sharp tip and spiny-toothed margins. It produces bright red berry-like fruits about 1/3" in diameter and which contain several "ribbed nutlets". Its bark is thin and gray and can be roughand "warty". It likes moist or wet well-drained soils, especially flood plains. It can reach 40' - 70' in height and from 1' - 2' in diameter.
The sapwood of the Holly is white and the heartwood is "ivory white" which frequently has bluish streaks or a bluish cast to it. The wood is diffuse-porous like maple, is very hard, and has a uniform and compact texture. Although a little less dense than sugar maple (.57 specific gravity vs .63), Dr. Hoadley rates them with identical tangential and radial shrinkage properties.
Holly is moderately low in strength when used as a beam but ranks high in shock resistance. It is used in furniture inlay, turnery, handles, engravings, scrollwork, carving, and scientific instruments such as measuring scales and rules. It is sometimes stained black to simulate ebony especially for piano keys.