Compact Japanese Holly – Ilex crenata

Japanese Compact Holly
Japanese Compact Holly

The Japanese or Box-leaved Holly was imported from the Orient where it is native to Chine, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Sakhalin (a large island in the N Pacific belonging to Russia). Depending on the variety you choose for your garden it can be like an exclamation point, drawing attention, or a classic hedge plant enclosing others!


It is an evergreen shrub, but without the pointy, sharp leaves we so often associate with Hollies. The leaves do more resemble the Box shrub for which one of its common names derives. It is a slow grower, often keeping the same relative size for years in your landscape structure.


As with all Hollies it needs male and female shrubs to produce berries. It blooms with small white flowers around mid-spring. These are followed by dark, almost black drupes with four seeds. The flowers are a wonderful bee attractant, and yet the shrub is deer-resistant.


If you want this shrub don’t bother trying the seeds, as they very rarely germinate in cultivation. Instead take semi-hardwood cuttings. These root surprisingly easily! To plant out make sure the soil is acidic and moist, but well drained. If the variety you are growing has solid green leaves full sun is great, but the variegated leaved varieties often need some dappled shade to shine.


Some care must be taken with pets and small children. The leaves, but more especially the berries contain Illicin. If a sufficient quantity is consumed then the signs of toxicity are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stupor due to depression of the central nervous system. Fortunately the Illicin produced by the berries and leaves is a bitter that discourages ingestion. The toxicity has never lead to death, and some report that the reports of toxicity are over stated.


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