Inkberry Holly: A Guide to Growing and Caring for this Versatile Evergreen Shrub


Inkberry Holly, scientifically known as Ilex glabra, is a shrub native to eastern North America. It is commonly found in a variety of habitats, including wetlands, dry soils, and upland forests. The shrub is characterized by its gray-green leaves and small, inconspicuous flowers.

Care for the inkberry holly is relatively low-maintenance, as it is tolerant of a wide range of soil types and can grow in both full sun and partial shade. However, it is prone to damage from extreme cold and drought, and may sometimes suffer from leaf margin burn.

The inkberry holly is often used in landscaping for its aesthetic value. Its dense growth habit and dark green foliage make it a popular choice for hedges and screens. Additionally, the shrub provides important habitat for pollinators, such as bees, and its fruits are occasionally consumed by mammals.

Conservation of the inkberry holly is important due to its value to native wildlife and its prevalence in certain habitats. Pruning should be done carefully and selectively, as excessive trimming can result in a less dense growth habit and decreased fruit production.

Overall, the inkberry holly is a versatile and attractive shrub that is well-suited to a range of landscapes and habitats. Its specific uses and care requirements should be considered before planting, but with proper attention, it can become a valuable addition to any home or garden.

Ilex glabra – evergreen winterberry inkberry

Ilex glabra, also known as inkberry or winterberry, is a species of evergreen shrub native to the eastern and central parts of North America. It can be found from Connecticut to Florida and west to Texas. This plant is a member of the family Aquifoliaceae and is closely related to other hollies.

The inkberry is a compact and low-growing shrub, typically reaching about 5 to 10 feet in height. It has dark green leaves that are alternate and lanceolate in shape, with serrated margins. The leaves are also leathery and glossy, providing a lush and full appearance. The shrub produces small white flowers in the spring, which are followed by berry-like fruit containing seeds. These berries serve as a food source for birds and mammals.

The inkberry is often used as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscapes due to its attractive foliage and ability to withstand cold temperatures. It is also used as a host plant for a variety of butterflies. The shrub’s compact form and fullness make it a popular choice for hedges and borders.

Pruning inkberry shrubs is usually unnecessary unless they become overgrown or misshapen. However, occasional pruning can help maintain the shrub’s compact form and encourage fuller growth. It is best to prune in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.

The inkberry is occasionally confused with Ilex glabra ‘Compacta’ or ‘Nigra,’ which are similar cultivars of the species that have been commercially developed for specific growth forms or foliage color. These cultivars may have more compact growth habits or darker foliage, but their basic characteristics remain the same.

The conservation status of Ilex glabra is listed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is considered to be naturally occurring and widespread in its native habitat, and it is not currently threatened. However, like many other broadleaf plants, inkberry can be susceptible to diseases and pests. Control measures like proper irrigation and maintenance can help prevent issues.

In conclusion, Ilex glabra, or inkberry, is a versatile evergreen shrub that adds beauty and interest to landscapes and gardens. Its compact form, attractive foliage, and ability to tolerate cold temperatures make it a popular choice for gardeners in North America. Whether grown for its berries, flowers, or foliage, inkberry is sure to delight and inspire.


New England distribution

Inkberry Holly, also known as Ilex glabra, is a shrub that is native to the Eastern United States, including New England. It can be found in a variety of habitats, including wetlands, forests, and coastal areas.

The distribution of Inkberry Holly in New England is well-documented, and it is known to occur in all six states of the region: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Inkberry Holly has a unique growth habit, with thin, erect stems and a dense, compact growth form. The branches are covered in a heavy layer of small, dark green leaves that have a glossy appearance. The inflorescence of the plant is apical, meaning it forms at the tip of the stem.

The flowers of Inkberry Holly are greenish-white in color and attract pollinators such as butterflies and bees. After pollination, the plant produces small, round fruits that are green when immature and turn black as they ripen. These fruits provide a food source for a variety of wildlife, including birds and small mammals.

The seeds of Inkberry Holly are spread by birds and other animals that eat the fruits. This helps to promote the naturalized spread of the species in New England.

Inkberry Holly is highly adapted to the New England climate and can tolerate a wide range of conditions, including cold temperatures and wet soils. It is also resistant to many pests and diseases, making it a popular choice for landscaping.

Due to its prevalence in New England, Inkberry Holly has a conservation status of “Least Concern” according to the NatureServe’s ranking system (S-Rank: S5).


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North America Distribution

The Inkberry Holly, also known as Ilex glabra, is a straight, evergreen holly native to North America. It has a restricted distribution and is mainly found in wetland habitats along the eastern coast of North America, from Nova Scotia to Florida and westward to Texas.

The Inkberry Holly is well-adapted to survive in harsh winter conditions, and its foliage sometimes exhibits winter earliness, with leaves yellowing or falling off. The growth of the shrubs can be dense or leggier depending on specific habitat conditions, including soil type.

These hollies typically have a height of about 3 to 8 feet when mature, with a thin, clear stem and oval-shaped leaves. The leaves have a heavy margin and are glossy dark green on top, while the underside is greenish-white.

The Inkberry Holly produces small, berry-like fruits that start green and turn black as they mature. The berries are an important food source for birds and other wildlife. The shrubs also serve as host plants for butterflies and provide valuable habitat for pollinators.

The North American distribution of Inkberry Holly has been documented by various organizations, including the University of Bonap and the Society for Conservation Society. The holly is commercially available and is sometimes confused with the Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), which also produces berries but loses its leaves in winter.

It is important to note that some cultivars of Inkberry Holly have been specifically bred to have different growth habits or foliage characteristics compared to the native species. These cultivars may have wider or thinner leaves, larger or smaller berries, or different colored foliage.

It is also worth mentioning that while Inkberry Holly is generally considered non-toxic, it is always a good idea to exercise caution when using any plant material, especially if you have pets or children who may come into contact with it.

In conclusion, the Inkberry Holly is a native evergreen holly species with a restricted distribution along the eastern coast of North America. It is a valuable plant for wetland conservation and provides food and habitat for wildlife. Its unique growth habits and foliage make it an attractive option for landscaping, and it is commercially available for those interested in planting it in their gardens.


The inkberry holly is a native shrub that is commonly found in wetland habitats in the eastern United States. It has oval-shaped leaves with a smooth margin and a dark greenish-white color. The inkberry holly is an evergreen shrub, meaning it retains its leaves throughout the year.

Inkberry holly shoots are typically leggier and thinner than other holly species. The plant produces small flowers, similar to berries, which are highly attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. These flowers eventually develop into small, berry-like fruits that ripen in late summer or early fall. The berries are highly sought after by birds and other wildlife.

The inkberry holly is a popular choice for gardeners looking to create hedges or provide a natural screen. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions and can grow in both full sun and partial shade. The inkberry holly is also highly valued for its conservation value, as it provides habitat and food for a variety of native species.

One interesting fact about the inkberry holly is its ability to withstand cold temperatures. It can survive in regions where the winter temperatures drop to near or below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, the inkberry holly is known for its dense, full growth habit, making it an attractive choice for landscaping projects.

It is important to note that while the inkberry holly is generally safe for pets, all parts of the plant are considered toxic if ingested. Pet owners should be aware of this and ensure that their animals do not have access to the plant.

The inkberry holly has a wide distribution range, with its native habitat ranging from Maine to Florida and west to Texas. It is commonly found in wetland areas, such as swamps and bogs, where it thrives in the thin, acidic soil. The inkberry holly is also commonly found in field margins and along the edges of woodlands.

In conclusion, inkberry holly is a versatile and attractive shrub, well-suited for a variety of garden and landscaping projects. Its evergreen foliage, berry-like fruits, and habitat value make it a popular choice among gardeners and conservationists alike.


Inkberry Holly is native to North America and can be commonly found in the eastern part of the continent, particularly in states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and others. It is a versatile shrub that can grow in a variety of habitats, including wetlands, woodlands, and along the coast.

The main characteristics of the Inkberry Holly include its highly attractive foliage and black berry-like fruit. The leaves are alternate, oval in shape, and have straight, heavy teeth along the edges. They are dark green in color and have glands that sometimes attract pollinators. The berries, which are produced by female plants, are black and often confused with Winterberry Holly, another prevalent species in the same region.

Inkberry Holly is a slow-growing shrub that matures to a height of about 6 to 8 feet, although some varieties can reach up to 12 feet. It has a compact and leggier form compared to other holly shrubs, making it a popular choice for pruning and shaping. The shrub has a dense growth habit, which makes it a good choice for hedges or as a foundation plant. Its dense foliage also provides good cover and nesting sites for birds.

One of the main advantages of Inkberry Holly is its tolerance to a wide range of soil conditions. It can grow in clay, sandy, or loamy soils and is also tolerant of wet and poorly drained soils. However, it does not perform well in dry conditions and may require supplemental watering during periods of drought.

Inkberry Holly is considered a low-maintenance plant, and it is generally resistant to pests and diseases. However, it can be prone to winter damage in colder climates, and some varieties may be more susceptible to certain pests or diseases.

It is important to note that Inkberry Holly is toxic to pets and humans if ingested. The berries and other parts of the plant contain a toxic compound that can cause gastrointestinal distress. Therefore, it is important to keep pets and children away from the plant and to be cautious when working with it.

Overall, Inkberry Holly is a highly versatile and attractive shrub that can enhance any landscape. Its compact and fullness form, along with its attractive foliage and berries, make it a popular choice for both residential and commercial landscapes.

Source: This article is based on the information from the North Carolina State University Extension’s website (https://by-nc-nd/4.0/), which provided detailed information about the habitat, characteristics, and toxicity of Inkberry Holly.

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Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.