Holly (Ilex opaca)

Holly (Ilex opaca)

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Common Name(s): Holly, American Holly

Scientific Name: Ilex opaca

Distribution: Eastern United States

Tree Size: 30-50 ft (9-15 m) tall, 1-2 ft (.3-.6 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 40 lbs/ft3 (640 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .50, .64

Janka Hardness: 1,020 lbf (4,540 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 10,300 lbf/in2 (71.0 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,110,000 lbf/in2 (7.66 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 5,540 lbf/in2 (38.2 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 4.8%, Tangential: 9.9%, Volumetric: 16.9%, T/R Ratio: 2.1

Color/Appearance: Ideal lumber has a very uniform, pale white color with virtually no visible grain pattern. Knots are common, which can reduce the usable area of the wood. Can develop a bluish/gray fungal stain if not dried rapidly after cutting. Holly is usually cut during the winter and kiln dried shortly thereafter to preserve the white color of the wood.

Grain/Texture: Grain is interlocked and irregular. Medium to fine uniform texture with moderate natural luster.

Endgrain: Diffuse-porous or semi-ring-porous; small to medium pores predominantly in radial multiples of 2-4, commonly arranged in radial rows, moderately numerous to numerous; growth rings may be distinct due to an intermittent row of earlywood pores; rays in variable sizes from narrow to very wide, normal to fairly close spacing; parenchyma not typically visible with lens.

Rot Resistance: Rated as non-durable or perishable, and susceptible to insect attack.

Workability: Can be difficult to work on account of the numerous knots and interlocked grain. Glues, stains, and finishes well, and is sometimes stained black as a substitute for Ebony. Turns well on the lathe.

Odor: No characteristic odor.

Allergies/Toxicity: Besides the standard health risks associated with any type of wood dust, no further health reactions have been associated with Holly. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Seldom available for commercial sale, Holly is an expensive domestic lumber, and is usually only available in small quantities and sizes.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Common Uses: Inlays, furniture, piano keys (dyed black), broom and brush handles, turned objects, and other small novelty items.

Comments: Holly is typically used only for ornamental and decorative purposes. It has a fairly large shrinkage rate, with a lot of seasonal movement in service, and its strength properties are mediocre for a hardwood.

Related Species:

Scans/Pictures: As you can see from the pictures below, unlike other light-colored woods, Holly remains light-colored even after a finish has been applied, (assuming a non-yellowing finish was used.)

Holly (sanded)

Holly (sanded)

Holly (sealed)

Holly (sealed)

Holly (endgrain)

Holly (endgrain)

Holly (endgrain 10x)

Holly (endgrain 10x)


  1. Dallas Hoopes September 14, 2018 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    I’m wondering how much it shrinks in length. Considering using some for columns. Most wood doesn’t shrink much at all in length.

    I agree, great website.

  2. mike walling March 13, 2018 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Very interesting to note above that cured holly is easier to work, Green Holly leaves an awful gunk on my band saw blade. Does cured Holly do the same?

    BTW: This site is awesome! Thanks so much for participating.

  3. Ed Davidson January 20, 2018 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    Holly is another one of my favorites. Fine grain is great for holding details and sharp edges.

  4. Thomas Evers December 9, 2016 at 8:16 am - Reply

    Is the volumetric shrinkage percent of 16.9% correct? As related to radial of 4.8% and tangential of 9.9%, this seems high.

    • ejmeier December 9, 2016 at 5:25 pm - Reply

      The only explanation that I can think of is that there are different samples and a different quantity of samples being used for each test. For instance, there may only be a few specialized samples cut to specifically measure the tangential and radial shrinkage (which require that it be cut with the grain lines at a very specific orientation), so there may be a smaller sampling for these numbers, whereas for the volumetric shrinkage, there may be a greater number of samples used as it is a more generic measurement of the whole volume of wood regardless of its size or grain orientation.

    • arth1 May 17, 2017 at 11:39 am - Reply

      It doesn’t seem high, it seems low.
      4.8% radial and 9.9% tangential shrinkage means a cylinder 10 cm wide and 10 cm tall will be have a volume of 785.4 cm^2 before shrinking, and 641.3 cm^2 after shrinking. That’s an 18.3% volume reduction.

      • arth1 May 17, 2017 at 11:52 am - Reply

        That said, holly is always sold as dried wood, both because of the shrinkage, but also because it’s one of very few woods that’s tougher to work when green. So unless you harvest your own holly, it should not be much of a problem. Just seal it well after forming.

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