Japanese Holly Ilex crenata

☠ Toxic to humans
🐾 Toxic to pets
🌸 Not blooming
🍪 Not edible
‍🌱 Easy-care
Japanese holly


The Japanese holly is a dense, compact evergreen shrub. It has small, shiny, dark green leaves that are often mistaken for boxwood because of their similar appearance. The leaves are scalloped with a somewhat wavy edge, giving them a distinctive texture. It blooms with small, white flowers in late spring which may not be very noticeable against the dense foliage. In autumn, it bears black, berry-like fruits which can attract birds and wildlife. The overall shape of the Japanese holly can vary, often pruned into different forms such as rounded, pyramidal, or box-like shapes to fit different landscape designs. The smooth gray bark of the Japanese holly is usually hidden beneath the thick foliage. Overall, this plant is valued for its lush, green appearance that is maintained throughout the year.

Plant Info
Common Problems

About this plant

  • memoNames

    • Family


    • Synonyms

      Japanese Holly, Box-leaved Holly, Boxwood Holly, Steed's Holly, Convex Holly, Helleri Holly

    • Common names

      Ilex crenata f. albomarginata (Nakai) Kitam., Ilex crenata f. aureomarginata (Nakai) Kitam., Ilex crenata f. buergeri (Miq.) Makino, Ilex crenata f. fastigiata (Hook.f. & Thomson ex Miq.) Makino, Ilex crenata f. macrocarpa Makino, Ilex crenata f. microcarpa (Nakai) Migo, Ilex crenata f. mutchagara (Siebold ex Blume) Makino, Ilex crenata var. albomarginata Nakai, Ilex crenata var. aureomarginata Nakai, Ilex crenata var. buergeri Miq., Ilex crenata var. chinensis Maxim., Ilex crenata var. convexa (Thunb.) Miq., Ilex crenata var. fargesii Franch., Ilex crenata var. fortunei (Hook.) Miq., Ilex crenata var. heterophylla Nakai, Ilex crenata var. leucocarpa Honda, Ilex crenata var. macrocarpa (Thunb.) Miq., Ilex crenata var. maruyamana Nakai, Ilex crenata var. microcarpa Nakai, Ilex crenata var. minus Miq., Ilex crenata var. mutchagara Siebold ex Blume, Ilex crenata var. paludosa Nakai, Ilex crenata var. simplex Nakai, Ilex crenata var. typica Makino, Ilex fonsecaea Bean, Ilex hyemalis Nakai, Ilex rotunda var. crenata Thunb.

  • skullToxicity

    • To humans

      Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) is known to contain saponins, which can be toxic to humans if ingested in sufficient quantities. While the level of toxicity is generally considered to be low, ingestion of the leaves or berries can potentially cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. It is especially important to keep children away from the berries, as they might be more susceptible to the toxic effects due to their smaller body size. In severe cases, the ingestion could potentially lead to more serious symptoms, so seeking medical attention is advised if ingestion is suspected.

    • To pets

      Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) is also toxic to pets, including dogs and cats, due to the presence of saponins. If a pet ingests part of this plant, they might exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. More serious side effects, such as lethargy and potential dehydration from prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, may occur. It is crucial to prevent pets from accessing the plant, and if any part is ingested, a veterinarian should be contacted to ensure the pet receives appropriate care.

  • infoCharacteristics

    • Life cycle


    • Foliage type


    • Color of leaves


    • Flower color


    • Height

      5-10 feet (1.5-3 meters)

    • Spread

      4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 meters)

    • Plant type


    • Hardiness zones


    • Native area



  • money-bagGeneral Benefits

    • Drought tolerance: Once established, Ilex crenata can endure periods of low water availability, making it suitable for xeriscaping.
    • Ornamental appeal: With its dense, fine-textured foliage and compact growth habit, it provides year-round visual interest and structure to gardens.
    • Adaptability to pruning: It responds well to trimming, making it ideal for hedges, topiary, and formal garden designs.
    • Deer resistance: Generally resistant to browsing by deer, which can be particularly advantageous in areas where deer are a common problem.
    • Shade tolerance: Able to grow in part shade, it offers flexibility in landscaping, especially in understory plantings and shaded areas.
    • Low maintenance: Once established, it requires minimal care, not needing frequent watering, fertilizing, or pest control.
    • Erosion control: Its root system can help stabilize slopes and prevent soil erosion.

  • medicalMedical Properties

    This plant is not used for medical purposes.

  • windAir-purifying Qualities

    This plant is not specifically known for air purifying qualities.

  • leavesOther Uses

    • As a Bonsai: Ilex crenata, or Japanese holly, is often used for bonsai due to its small leaves and its ability to respond well to pruning and shaping.
    • Topiary Sculptures: Gardeners can trim and train Japanese holly into various formal shapes and figures, as it responds well to detailed topiary work.
    • Hedging: Because of its dense growth habit, Japanese holly is commonly used for creating compact, formal hedge lines in landscapes.
    • Woodworking: The wood of Ilex crenata is hard and fine-grained, making it suitable for making small wooden items such as chess pieces or carvings.
    • Wildlife Shelter: The thick foliage provides excellent cover and nesting sites for small birds.
    • Privacy Screens: It can be used to create living privacy screens between properties or to hide unsightly views.
    • Erosion Control: Japanese holly’s root system helps to stabilize slopes and banks, reducing soil erosion.
    • Festive Decoration: Branches and berries are used in holiday decorations, particularly in Christmas wreaths and arrangements.
    • Soil Improvement: When used as a cover crop in gardens, the decomposing leaves can contribute to soil health by adding organic matter.
    • Barrier Planting: Due to its dense growth, it can be planted to deter foot traffic in certain areas of a garden or park.

Interesting Facts

  • bedFeng Shui

    The Japanese Holly, which is the most common name for Ilex crenata, symbolizes protection and good luck in Feng Shui when placed near the front door, and its evergreen nature represents longevity and constant growth. However, its spiky leaves should be used with caution as they can create too much 'Sha Chi' or attacking energy if not balanced properly with softer, round-leaved plants.

  • aquariusZodiac Sign Compitability

    The Japanese Holly is not used in astrology practice.

  • spiralPlant Symbolism

    • Good Fortune: Ilex crenata, commonly known as Japanese holly, is often associated with good fortune due to its evergreen nature, which symbolizes continuity and resilience.
    • Protection: Japanese holly has spiny leaves that are thought to ward off negative energies and spirits. It is sometimes planted near homes for this protective quality.
    • New Beginnings: The hardiness and perennial growth of the Japanese holly symbolize fresh starts and the ability to thrive through change.
    • Domestic Happiness: The dense and tidy appearance of Japanese holly can represent a peaceful and well-ordered home life.

Every 2 weeks
2500 - 10000 Lux
Every 2-3 years
Early Spring
As needed
  • water dropWater

    Japanese Holly should be watered deeply but infrequently, establishing a moderate moisture level within the soil. During the active growing season in spring and summer, water once every 7 to 10 days, using about 1 to 1.5 gallons per watering for a medium-sized shrub, ensuring that the soil is moist but not waterlogged. In fall and winter, reduce watering to every 2 to 3 weeks, or as necessary to prevent the soil from drying out completely, especially in areas with less natural rainfall. Avoid overhead watering to minimize leaf and root diseases, and instead apply water directly to the base of the plant.

  • sunLight

    Japanese Holly thrives in full sun to partial shade conditions. It prefers a location where it can receive at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. However, in regions with particularly hot summers, providing afternoon shade can help prevent leaf scorch. The best spot for this plant is one where it can enjoy morning sunlight and partial afternoon shade, especially in the warmer zones.

  • thermometerTemperature

    Japanese Holly is hardy and grows best in temperatures ranging from 50°F to 80°F but can tolerate temperatures as low as 0°F and as high as 90°F for short periods. The ideal temperature for promoting good growth is between 60°F and 70°F. It is important to protect the plant from extreme cold winds and excessively high temperatures to prevent damage to the foliage and roots.

  • scissorsPruning

    Pruning Japanese Holly is important for maintaining its shape, encouraging bushy growth, and removing dead or diseased branches. Prune in late winter or early spring before new growth starts. For shaping or size control, prune immediately after the plant has finished blooming. Pruning every year or every other year is often enough to keep the plant healthy and well-groomed.

  • broomCleaning

    As needed

  • bambooSoil

    Japanese Holly requires well-draining soil with a good mix of peat, pine bark, and either sand or perlite to enhance drainage. A soil pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is ideal for this plant, leaning towards slightly acidic conditions.

  • plantRepotting

    Japanese Holly should be repotted every 2 to 3 years to replenish its soil and to accommodate root growth. Younger, more vigorously growing plants may require more frequent repotting, while mature plants can be repotted less often.

  • water dropsHumidity & Misting

    Japanese Holly prefers moderate to high humidity levels but is adaptable to different humidity conditions found in typical household environments. Consistency in humidity is more beneficial than extremely high or low levels.

  • pinSuitable locations

    • Indoor

      Provide bright light, well-draining soil, and mild humidity for indoor Japanese Holly.

    • Outdoor

      Plant in acidic soil, partial sun, and mulch well to conserve moisture for outdoor Japanese Holly.

    • Hardiness zone

      5-9 USDA

  • circleLife cycle

    Ilex crenata, commonly known as Japanese holly, begins its life when seeds, produced by the small white flowers, germinate after a period of dormancy, often requiring a cold stratification to break seed dormancy. The seedlings emerge and grow, developing a deep green, glossy foliage that is distinctive to this evergreen plant. As the plant matures, a dense, twiggy growth habit forms, making it popular in landscape design for hedges and topiary. Reproduction occurs typically from late spring to early summer when flowers are pollinated by insects, leading to the development of small black drupe fruits. These fruits are then dispersed by animals, or they may fall near the parent plant, where they can germinate to perpetuate the species' life cycle. Throughout the plant's life, it goes through seasonal cycles of growth and dormancy, with foliage remaining evergreen throughout the year.

  • sproutPropogation

    • Propogation time

      Early Spring

    • Japanese Holly, or Ilex crenata, is most commonly propagated through the process of cutting. To do this, healthy, non-flowering shoots are chosen in the late summer. Cuttings, typically about 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) long, are taken with a sharp blade to ensure a clean cut. The lower leaves of the cuttings are then removed, and the bottom end is dipped in a rooting hormone to encourage root development. Afterward, the cuttings are planted in a moist mixture of peat and perlite, ensuring that the leafless portion of the stem is buried. The environment should be kept humid by either placing a plastic bag over the cuttings or misting regularly, and at a consistent temperature of about 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 24 degrees Celsius). Roots typically develop after several weeks, at which point the new plants can be gradually acclimated to less humid conditions before potting on or planting out.