Fruit's trouble, but gardener's more likely to curse holly leaf.

Be careful of the fruit and prickly leaf

Holly berries are "toxic" and "poisonous"...

...and reporters sometimes make much of this on a slow news day. However, many substances fall into this category. (Consider: "intoxicated" also means over-doing the alcohol...) The effects of toxins range from mildly troubling to quickly lethal. Holly berries are on the mild end of that range.


  • Holly berries are prized by birds but toxic to humans.
  • The berries are toxic, causing ".'..nausea and multiple episodes of vomiting with occasional diarrhea." Yet the "...leaves are nontoxic and, in many species, are brewed for their content of caffeine..." (From the American Medical Association Guide to Poisonous and Injurious Plants)


You are much more likely to experience harm from the foliage!

  • Spiny leaves can be a serious issue. Chinese holly leaves (Ilex cornuta) are particularly hard to work around. If you dislike prickly plants but want a traditional evergreen with red berries, consider longstalk holly (I. pedunculosa). It is named for the longer-than-average stem that connects fruit to twig. It's a holly that should be used more. It has non-prickly evergreen leaves, is hardy to zone 5 and does well even where summers are hot. However, it is often less colorful than other hollies in winter -- because the birds seem to like its fruit best and strip these plants first.


Below: Flowers promise fruit for winter color and attracting birds, but the leaves harass, with a sharp tip on each leaf.