Holly trees provide food, shelter for wildlife

American Holly (Ilex Opaca) is native to Frederick County forests, with festive evergreen prickly leaves and bright red berries that adorn female trees through the winter.

Ripe fruit

The small berries are an important winter wildlife food, especially for birds. Unlike most tree fruits that are edible when formed to help their seed distribution by animals, holly berries are hard and unpalatable to most animals when they appear in the fall. Over the winter and through many freeze and thaw cycles, holly berries soften and become less bitter, providing an edible fruit in late winter when not much else is available for foraging animals.

Robins, bluebirds, blue jays, mockingbirds, thrashers and thrushes, wild turkeys, raccoons, squirrels and other animals appreciate finding a winter meal of holly berries. The dense evergreen, thorny leaves are also good cover for birds, providing shelter and protection from predators.

The trees grow well in this area in slightly acidic, well-drained soils and can add beauty to backyards and gardens.

Nature Notes for 3/13/2011