AskIFAS Powered by EDIS

Ilex x attenuata 'Savannah': Savannah Holly1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson 2


Savannah holly is a beautifully shaped tree, with a narrow, open pyramidal to columnar form. A 35-foot-tall tree can be eight feet wide in 40 years, indicating a moderate growth rate. The spiny, dull, dark green leaves have wavy margins and are accented in fall with heavy clusters of red berries which persist throughout the fall and winter. Male and female flowers appear on separate trees and must be located in the same neighborhood to ensure production of berries. Many nurserymen propagate from female trees so most nursery trees have berries. Many trees are grown with a central trunk and skinny lateral branches, although some nurseries offer those with several upright trunks growing straight up through the crown. Many trees are sheared in the nursery to create more branches and a fuller canopy than will be seen several years after planting.

Figure 1. Middle-aged Ilex x attenuata 'Savannah': Savannah Holly
Figure 1.  Middle-aged Ilex x attenuata 'Savannah': Savannah Holly
Credit: Ed Gilman, UF/IFAS

General Information

Scientific name: Ilex x attenuata
Pronunciation: EYE-lecks x uh-ten-yoo-AY-tuh
Common name(s): Savannah holly
Family: Aquifoliaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 6A through 9B (Fig. 2)
Origin: native to North America
Invasive potential: little invasive potential
Uses: hedge; screen; specimen; street without sidewalk; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); tree lawn 3-4 feet wide; tree lawn 4-6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; highway median; parking lot island < 100 sq ft; parking lot island 100-200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft
Availability: not native to North America

Figure 2. Range
Figure 2.  Range


Height: 30 to 45 feet
Spread: 6 to 10 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: columnar
Crown density: open
Growth rate: moderate
Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: terminal spine, spiny, pectinate
Leaf shape: elliptic (oval), ovate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: less than 2 inches, 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. Foliage
Figure 3.  Foliage


Flower color: white/cream/gray
Flower characteristics: not showy


Fruit shape: round
Fruit length: less than .5 inch
Fruit covering: fleshy
Fruit color: red
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches don't droop; not showy; typically one trunk; thorns
Pruning requirement: little required
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: green
Current year twig thickness: medium
Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun, partial sun, or partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; slightly alkaline; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate


Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: yes
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: resistant
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

Savannah holly is ideal for use as a street tree, framing tree, specimen, or barrier planting. There are better screens available such as Nellie R. Stevens holly and Foster's holly which are denser than the open-canopied Savannah holly. Roots are rarely invasive due to their great number and relatively small diameter. This native tree is ideal for naturalizing on moist, slightly acid soils, and the fruit is very attractive to wildlife, serving as an excellent food source.

A popular landscape plant, this broad-leafed evergreen has served a variety of uses through the years. The American Indians used preserved holly berries as decorative buttons and were much sought after by other tribes who bartered for them. The wood has been used for making canes, scroll work and furniture, and has even been substituted for ebony in inlay work when stained black.

Growing well in full sun to partial shade, Savannah holly should be located on fertile, well-drained but moist, slightly acid soils. Berry production is best in full sun. Savannah holly foliage thins slightly during drought but insect and disease infestations are usually minimal.

Propagation is by cuttings or grafting.


Savannah holly is usually pest-free.

Holly leaf miner larvae mines out the leaf middle leaving yellow or brown trails.

Scales of various types may infest holly.

Spider mites cause discoloration and speckling of holly foliage.


Savannah holly is not normally infected with disease.

Tar spot may occasionally cause small yellow spots on the leaves in early summer. Eventually the spots turn reddish brown with narrow yellow borders. Leaves may not drop prematurely but the infected areas drop out leaving holes in the leaves. Gather up and destroy badly infected leaves.

Many different fungi cause leaf spots on holly. Reduce the injury caused by leaf spots by keeping trees healthy. Dispose of diseased leaves.

Cankers caused by several different fungi lead to sunken areas on stems and plant dieback. Keep trees healthy and prune out infected branches.

Spine spot is small gray spots with purple margins and is caused by spines of one leaf puncturing an adjacent leaf.

Chlorosis symptoms are light green or yellowish leaves with darker green veins. This problem is due to a high pH leading to iron deficiency. Use acidifying fertilizers and sulfur to bring down the pH. Sprays of iron chelate will green up plants.

Purple blotches on the leaves are caused by some environmental factor such as nutrient deficiencies, drought, and winter injury.


1. This document is ENH475, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at
2. Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; and Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville FL 32611.

Publication #ENH475

Release Date:September 11, 2014

Related Collections

Part of Southern Trees Fact Sheets

Related Topics

    Organism ID


    • Michael Andreu