Burford Holly Classification Essay

With over three acres of land and a full time job, I am all about low maintenance gardening. I long ago realized that shrubs give me the most impact for my efforts, and hollies are at the top of the list for ease of care. Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii' is a Chinese holly that has been around a long time. Its favor has waned as trendier garden fashions have come and gone, but I think it deserves new recognition.

Burford holly has glossy, evergreen leaves with pointed tips. One does need to be careful of those sharp tips when pruning! The shrub produces creamy white flowers in spring. The small blooms may not be very noticeable to humans, but the bees love them. I am amazed by the dozens of bees that cover the shrub when it is in bloom, buzzing about and becoming drunk on the nectar.The flowers are followed by bright red berries. The characteristic that first drew me to Burford holly is that, unlike many other hollies, the shrub doesn't require a male pollinator for heavy fruit set.Birds, including robins, cardinals, and sparrows, will eat the berries in late winter after they have softened. Birds also consider Burford holly a choice nesting site.

I lightly prune my Burford holly once a year in December and use the cuttings, laden with berries, for Christmas decorations. Heavier pruning should wait till early spring, right before new growth begins. These shrubs are often pruned into formal shapes or used as hedges, but I have let mine keep its natural form. Interestingly, the branches of my particular plant have something of a weeping habit, which I think is beautiful. A recent photo of Burford holly in my garden

There are two forms of Burford holly, and one should be careful to purchase the best one for the location. The standard Burford holly will grow at least 15 to 20 feet high and wide, and if the lower limbs are removed, it will make an attractive small tree. The dwarf form, which is what I have, will be smaller, 6 to 10 feet in height and width. Note that the dwarf form is still a large shrub. Do not plant it as a foundation shrub in front of a window, as you will hate it when you are constantly having to prune the branches with their sharp, pointy leaves! I have seen dwarf burford holly advertised as a slow grower that will grow to only 2 to 3 feet. This has not been my experience, so it must be a different cultivar. Be sure of what you are getting.

Burford holly will grow in full sun to partial shade in hardiness zones 7-9. It is heat and drought tolerant and pest and disease resistant. Scale insects can sometimes be a problem, producing a black, sooty mold. Fortunately, my plant has never been affected. Though it will adapt to a variety of soil types and pH levels, it likes well drained, acidic soil. I fertilize mine only once a year, in early spring, with an organic fertilizer for acid loving plants.

Low maintenance gardening is first dependent on planting the right plant in the right place. If that rule is followed with Burford holly, it should provide you with years of pleasure, as it has done for me.


Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii': Burford Holly1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2


This dense evergreen shrub or small tree has glossy, dark green leaves, each with a single terminal spine. Leaves are among the glassiest and darkest green of trees. The somewhat-showy clusters of fragrant, springtime, white flowers attract bees. The large, bright red, long-lasting berries during the fall and winter provide a nice contrast to the dark green leaves. The plants are self-fertile and do not need a male plant located nearby for pollination. It is one of the most popular shrubs in some areas of the country.

Figure 1. 

Mature Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii': Burford Holly


Ed Gilman

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Ilex cornuta
Pronunciation: EYE-lecks kor-NOO-tuh
Common name(s): Burford Holly
Family: Aquifoliaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 7A through 9B (Fig. 2)
Origin: not native to North America
Invasive potential:has been evaluated using the IFAS Assessment of the Status of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas (Fox et al. 2005). This species is not documented in any undisturbed natural areas in Florida. Thus, it is not considered a problem species and may be used in Florida.
Uses: sidewalk cutout (tree pit); parking lot island < 100 sq ft; parking lot island 100-200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft; tree lawn 3-4 feet wide; tree lawn 4-6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; street without sidewalk; deck or patio; screen; espalier; urban tolerant; highway median; container or planter; hedge
Availability: not native to North America
Figure 2. 


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Height: 15 to 25 feet
Spread: 15 to 25 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: vase, round
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: moderate
Texture: medium


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


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


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 droop; not showy; typically multi-trunked; thorns
Pruning requirement: little required
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: green, gray
Current year twig thickness: medium
Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun, partial sun or partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; extended flooding; 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

Although typically pruned for formal hedges, the large form and gracefully drooping branches of Burford Holly make it ideal for unpruned natural plantings or as a specimen for spacious areas and large buildings. There are much better plants for pruning into formal hedges. Burford Holly can also be trained as an attractive vase-shaped multi-stemmed small tree. Trees trained in this fashion often have a thick crown comprised of many branches and small-diameter trunks. Burford Holly should be grown and used in this fashion more often.

Growing best in rich, well-drained, slightly acid soil, Burford Holly does well in full sun or part shade. However, flowering and subsequent fruiting is reduced in shady locations. Burford Holly is drought-tolerant and easy to grow once established. It is well suited for low-maintenance landscapes which receive little or no irrigation or fertilizer after trees are established. Once the tree reaches 10 or 15 feet tall, growth rate slows. `Burfordii Nana' makes a better shrub than `Burfordii' due to a slower growth rate and smaller leaves.

Propagation is by cuttings only.


Burford Holly can be plagued with severe infestations of tea scale.


No diseases are of major concern.

Literature Cited

Fox, A.M., D.R. Gordon, J.A. Dusky, L. Tyson, and R.K. Stocker (2005) IFAS Assessment of the Status of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas. Cited from the Internet (November 3, 2006), http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment.html


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