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Delaware State Tree

American Holly

Tree, a state symbol: American Holly

(Ilex opaca, Aiton )

Adopted on May 1, 1939.

By an Act of the General Assembly of Delaware, signed by Governor Richard C. McMullen on May 1, 1939, the American holly (Ilex opaca), often referred to as the Christmas or evergreen holly, was adopted as the official State Tree of Delaware.

The American Holly, (Aquifoliaceae Ilex opaca aiton,) is regarded as one of Delaware's most important forest trees. Often called Christmas holly or evergreen holly is native to the eastern United States, from coastal Massachusetts south to central Florida, and west to southeastern Missouri and eastern Texas. The tree has dark, green thorny-leaved and leathery foliage. Sometimes they are very shiny. Underneath, they are yellowish-green. The flowers of American Holly are small and white. They usually bloom from April to June. The fruit is a small red drupe 6-12 mm diameter containing four seeds; it is often persistent into winter.

Delaware State Tree: American Holly

Tree, a state symbol: American Holly

When the Pilgrims landed the week before Christmas in 1620 on the coast of what is now Massachusetts, the evergreen, prickly leaves and red berries of American holly (Ilex opaca) reminded them of the English holly (Ilex aquifolium), a symbol of Christmas for centuries in England and Europe (13,26). Since then American holly, also called white holly or Christmas holly, has been one of the most valuable and popular trees in the Eastern United States for its foliage and berries, used for Christmas decorations, and for ornamental plantings.

Identification of the American holly

Tree, a state symbol: American Holly
  • Leaf: Alternate, simple, and persistant, thickened and leathery, eliptical in shape, 2 to 4 inches long, dark green and shiny above, pale green below with entire or spiney-toothed margins.
  • Flower: Dioecious, dull green-white, male flowers on 3 to 7 flowered cymes, female flowers are solitary with a pleasant odor. Flowers apparent April to June.
  • Fruit: A berrylike drupe, red, rarely yellow when ripe, 1/4 inch in diameter, containing ribbed nutlets. Maturing September to October, persisting on tree into winter.
  • Twig: Slender with rust-colored pubescence.
  • Bark: Light gray, with prominent warts.
  • Form: A small tree, with a thick crown and pyramidal form, usually with branches to the ground.

Delaware Law

The law designating the American holly as the official Delaware state tree is found in the Delaware Code, Title 29, Part 1, Chapter 3, Section 305.

TITLE 29. State Government.
PART I. General Provisions.

§ 305. State tree. The American holly ( Ilex opaca, Aiton ) is adopted as the state tree. (42 Del. Laws, c. 86; 29 Del. C. 1953, § 505.)

Taxonomic Hierarchy: American Holly

Kingdom: Plantae - Plants
    Subkingdom: Tracheobionta - Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta - Seed plants
    Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida - Dicotyledons
    Subclass: Rosidae
Order: Celastrales
Family: Aquifoliaceae - Holly family
Genus: Ilex L. - holly
Species: Ilex opaca Aiton - American holly

State Trees
State Trees
All of the state trees, except the Hawaii state tree, are native to the state in which they are designated.
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