The genus Ilex belongs to the order of Celastrales which comprises 12 families, 4 genera et more than 2000 species.
In addition to Ilex, the other genera are :
" Bytonia" with 25 species, all from tropical or sub-tropical South-East Asia, or from the Andes in Peru or Chile. Thee plants are often grown inside houses or apartments in New Zealand.
"Nemopanthus" : Mountain Holly, which grows in New England and in the Appalachians in the U.S.A.
"Phelline" : 10 endemic species in New Caledonia.
Ilex was first called Aquifolium in 1735; Linnaeus changed it to Ilex in 1753 - Ilex means "green oak" in Latin.
are trees up to 20 metres high, or ground-covering shrubs. Ilex rugosa, a shrub
from Northern Japan, is the most cold-resistant.
Holly leaves are alternate, except for 4 species from New Caledonia, which are opposite.
New species are constantly being discovered. In China, between 1980 and 1989, 40 new species were discovered. A whole life-time may be spent on their classification.
Ilex species existed already in Gondwana before the continents drifted apart. Today they can be found in temperate, warm temperate, sub-tropical and tropical climates.
The three principal regions
in which Hollies may be found are :
1) China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Burma (Myanmar), and Indochina : approx. 300 species
2) Latin America : Brasil, Venezuela etc … : 320 species
3) Malaysia, Indonésia, New Guinea and Pacific islands
The other regions are :
a) India and the Himalayas : 42 species
b) North America : 23 species
c) Europe and South-West Asia : 5 species
d) Africa : 1 or 2 species (possibly 3)
e) New Zealand, New Caledonia, Australia : 5 species
Natural hybrids : 8 species
Holly wood is very dense; it as used in the past to make parts for lathes and other machines, as well as for turnery. It is also used in sculpture and the branches are used as decorations.
In South America, Holly leaves are used to make maté, a caffeine-rich herbal tea. The bark is used to make bird-lime. Holly leaves have antispasmodic, febrifuge and tonic properties. (The leaf is not poisonous, but the berries are mildly toxic).