Holly Flowers

— Written By Thomas Glasgow and last updated by
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A variety of holly species have been flowering for a few weeks now, which explains the large numbers of bees we see hovering around holly trees and shrubs. Once in a great while we receive questions about getting rid of the bees (i.e. spraying the bees) but this is something we would never advise doing. The bees are interested in the flowers, not people, and when the hollies stop flowering the bees will go elsewhere. Holly flowers have some unique characteristics, as described below.

Pictured above is the female (pistillate) flower of a yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) in March. The holly genus is dioecious, meaning female and male (staminate) flowers occur on separate plants. This image features the distinctive stigma typical of female holly flowers; the stigma sits directly on the ovary, without the typical stalk or style that usually connects the stigma and ovary. As described by Fred C. Galle in Hollies – The Genus Ilex, “The anthers of a pistillate flower are aborted and sterile. They are small and not fully developed … “. Four anthers, borne on filaments, can be seen in the background.

Pictured above is a staminate yaupon holly flower. Two of four anthers, covered in pollen, can be clearly seen in the foreground. Galle notes that pistils are present in staminate holly flowers, but are rudimentary and non-functional.