Holly trees are common all over the world. There are more than 750 types of holly trees, each with its own characteristics. The American holly, for example, has dark green waxy leaves with sharp, serrated edges. It has bright red berries and grows 40 to 50 feet tall.
- 1. Boxwood Shrub (Buxus)
- 2. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
- 3. Wild Currant (Mahonia trifoliolata)
- 4. False Holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus)
- 5. Texas Barberry (Mahonia Swaseyi)
- 6. Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia bealei)
- 7. California Coffeeberry (Frangula californica)
- 8. Daphne Bush (Daphne x burkwoodii)
- 9. New Zealand Holly (Olearia macrodonta)
Despite there being almost 1000 holly varieties, there are also other plants that look like hollies but aren’t. Some plants have berries that resemble a holly, while others have similar leaves. For example, 9 plants that look like holly include:
- Boxwood shrub – looks like a tiny holly tree with smooth leaves.
- Elderberry – the berries remind one of American holly.
- Wild currant – berries, and leaves that look like some holly varieties.
- False holly – all parts of the plant look like holly.
- Texas barberry – the leaves look like some holly varieties.
- Leatherleaf Mahonia – spiky leaves just like an American holly tree.
- California coffeeberry – berries and leaves that resemble some holly varieties.
- Daphne bush – the leaves look like some holly varieties.
- New Zealand holly – leaves and flowers that look like some holly varieties.
Stick around if you’re curious how these plants are similar to and different from a holly. This might also help you determine if the plant in your yard is indeed a holly or something else. So, let’s consider why these 9 plants look like holly.
1. Boxwood Shrub (Buxus)
Boxwood shrubs are almost as common as hollies. These shrubs are native to North America and have smooth, oval-shaped leaves that look like some holly varieties. Although many holly plants develop leaves with sharp edges as they mature, some have smooth, oval-shaped leaves while young.
Boxwood shrubs also have waxy, dark green leaves that remind one of some holly varieties. This is why it is easy to mistake a boxwood shrub for a young holly. Boxwood shrubs, however, have different flowers from holly trees. They also don’t produce red berries, which is how you can tell a boxwood apart from a holly.
2. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Elderberry shrubs grow to 12 feet tall and have smooth oval leaves. Elderberries also produce small, white flowers that resemble holly flowers. As the plant matures, it also produces dark purple berries that have a similar shape and size as elderberries.
Still, they are a darker purple than the bright red shade of holly berries.
Although elderberry shrubs tend to be smaller than holly trees, they have similar characteristics to these trees. This makes it easy to mistake an elderberry shrub for a smooth-leaved holly variety. And because elderberries are native to North America, they are a great indigenous alternative to some holly trees.
3. Wild Currant (Mahonia trifoliolata)
Wild currants have berries that look precisely like holly berries. In addition, the plant’s size and structure remind one of a holly. This is why many people mistake wild currants for holly trees at a distance. Wild currants are native to Canada and North America. They grow about 6 feet tall, making them look like immature holly trees.
Despite their similarities, it is easy to distinguish between a holly and a wild currant up close. Wild currents have light green leaves with a distinctive “maple leaf” shape. While the oakleaf holly has a similar leaf shape, its leaves are also covered in spines.
4. False Holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus)
False holly trees look so much like hollies that they are even named after them. The False holly, also known as a Chinese holly, is native to Asia and grows up to 12 feet tall. It has tiny white flowers, just like a holly tree.
Moreover, a false holly has sharp-edged dark green leaves that are easily mistakable for holly leaves while young.
False holly trees also sometimes develop fruit that looks like blueberries or some holly fruit. However, when a false holly matures, the leaves turn oval and lose their serrated edges. They are also smaller than holly trees, which is how you can tell them apart.
5. Texas Barberry (Mahonia Swaseyi)
The Texas barberry is another shrub with some remarkably similar characteristics to a holly. A Texas barberry grows between 3 and 6 feet tall. While it is quite smaller than a holly, the Texas barberry has leaves and berries that are easily mistaken for those of a holly tree.
Like holly, the Texas barberry has dark green, waxy leaves with sharp edges and teeth. Furthermore, the Texas barberry also produces bright red berries that look like holly berries. Apart from being smaller than a holly tree, Texas barberries also have yellow flowers instead of the white ones you can see on a holly tree.
6. Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia bealei)
The leatherleaf mahonia is yet another plant that looks so much like a holly people often mistake it for one. The leatherleaf mahonia is native to China and grows up to 10 feet tall. This makes it the perfect alternative to a holly if you have less space.
The spiny, dark green leaves look precisely like holly leaves. As do the berries while they are still green. As they ripen, leatherleaf mahonia berries turn a deep purple, which is one way of telling this shrub apart from a holly tree.
A leatherleaf mahonia also has yellow flowers instead of white ones, although they are similar in shape to holly flowers.
7. California Coffeeberry (Frangula californica)
The California coffeeberry is another excellent alternative to some holly trees, especially considering it’s an indigenous species in the USA. The California coffeeberry has some characteristics that make it like the holly. The first similarity is with the flowers. This tree has flowers that look like those of a holly tree.
The California coffeeberry tree also produces bright red berries that resemble holly tree berries. And it also grows nearly as big as a holly tree, with a maximum height of 15 feet.
While the California coffeeberry has many characteristics similar to a holly tree, they don’t have the same serrated-edged leaves. Instead, California coffeeberry trees have lighter green, smooth, oval-shaped leaves.
8. Daphne Bush (Daphne x burkwoodii)
Although you may think of dark green leaves with sharp, pointy edges when you imagine a holly tree, many varieties of hollies don’t have these types of leaves, such as the Altaclere holly tree. Instead, this holly tree has bi-colored leaves with a green center and yellow edges.
And, like the altaclere holly tree, the daphne bush also has bi-colored leaves. The daphne bush grows about 5 feet high and has smooth, oval leaves. Although a daphne bush doesn’t bear berries like a holly, it does produce flowers that resemble the clusters of holly flowers at a distance.
There are enough differences to make telling a daphne bush apart from a holly tree easy. However, their leaves and flowers may still remind you of a holly.
9. New Zealand Holly (Olearia macrodonta)
Finally, the New Zealand holly is another plant closely resembling a tree. It has so many similarities, in fact, that it is named after the holly tree, although it isn’t a true holly. The New Zealand holly grows up to 20 feet tall, making it look like a slightly smaller holly variety.
New Zealand holly trees have unique leaves. Although their leaves are also serrated, the teeth are much finer. The leaf has a more crinkled appearance too. But it is also dark green and glossy, like a holly tree’s leaves. When the New Zealand holly tree is small, its leaves look much more like a holly tree’s leave than when it grows up.
New Zealand holly trees also produce white, daisy-like flowers that grow in bundles on the tree. And while the flowers look different, their bundles remind one of a holly tree.