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Holly, Ilex

Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality

Michael S. Reid

Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis

Maturity & Quality


Ilex spp. Evergreen shrubs, hedges and small trees prized for their holiday-season dark green leaves and bright red fruits. The plants carry female and male flowers on separate trees, and are therefore termed ‘dioecious’. Thus, only the female plants are harvested for specimens possessing fruit.

Quality Indices

Holly is harvested when the fruits are already fully red. Avoid purchasing holly in packages when condensation is visible. This indicates poor temperature management and possible fungal growth and ethylene production. Also, avoid ones where berry or leaf fall has occurred.

Grading and Bunching

Quality holly branches have uniform dark green leaves, free of blemishes, and bright red berries. They are seldom gathered into bunches, but may be grouped and placed in polyethylene bags.

Ethylene Sensitivity

Exposure to ethylene results in loss of berries and leaves, and is a common problem in holly handled through mass market outlets.


Because of its ethylene sensitivity, holly should be pretreated with STS or 1-MCP, which prevents bud and leaf loss during marketing.

Storage Conditions

Holly should be stored at 0-1°C, and may even be held for longer periods at lower but non-freezing temperatures.


Holly may be packed in hampers or horizontal boxes. In the past, the branches were treated with various solutions (containing naphthalene acetic acid, NAA) to reduce their sensitivity to ethylene, and were therefore sometimes packed (wet) in wax-treated cartons. The use of 1-MCP should greatly simplify the marketing of this product.

Special Considerations

There are major differences among holly types in their sensitivity to ethylene. For example, ‘Burford’ is essentially insensitive to ethylene, while Chinese and English types are very sensitive. Therefore, know the type of holly being marketed. Some producers will dip holly into various solutions in an attempt to reduce fruit and leaf fall and/or package the product in such a way as to extend life. However, at wholesale or retail level there is presently no product that will retard fruit loss, other than STS. Treating with STS does reduce fruit and leaf fall. Do not pre-green arrangements with holly, as it will not last.


October 2004

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The information in this fact sheet represents our best understanding of the current state of knowledge at the time of the latest update, and does not represent an exhaustive review of all research results. Links to any of these UC Postharvest Technology Center pages are permitted, but no endorsement of the linking site or products mentioned in the linking page is intended or implied by such a link.

How to Cite

Author(s) names. Initial publication or update date (located at the top). Title. Link to the specific Produce Fact Sheet webpage (Accessed date)

Example: Cantwell, M. and T. Suslow. 2002. Lettuce, Crisphead: Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality. (Accessed January 18, 2014).

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