Gallberry or inkberry (Ilex glabra) is somewhat familiar to homeowners and landscapers as a holly shrub with soft, non-spiny foliage and shiny black fruit instead of the more typical red or bright red. Cultivars such as ‘Shamrock’ are less open and leggy than the species and perhaps more suitable for landscape use.
In natural areas, large or giant gallberry (Ilex coriacea) can often be found growing in the same places as gallberry. It can usually be distinguished from its smaller growing counterpart by its height (up to 10-15 feet tall), larger leaves and a more open growth habit. However, these distinctions may not always be completely convincing, so it’s best to also take a close look at the leaf margins.
Gallberry leaf margins appear to lack spines, but if you look closely you will see slight indentations with very small marginal teeth near the leaf apex, pointing forward. In contrast, the large gallberry foliage is larger and more broad, with a small number of spines projecting outwards and distributed irregularly around the leaf margins.
Both species are often seen in pocosins or wet areas, and are considered to be important plants for bees and honey production.