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Holly vs. Mistletoe: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on February 5, 2024
Holly is a shrub or tree with glossy, prickly leaves and red berries, commonly associated with Christmas decoration, while mistletoe is a parasitic plant with smooth, oval leaves and white berries, known for its Christmas kissing tradition.

Key Differences

Holly plants are characterized by their glossy, prickly leaves and bright red berries. Mistletoe, in contrast, has smooth, oval leaves and bears small, white berries.
Holly grows as a shrub or tree and can live independently. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant, growing on the branches of trees and absorbing nutrients from its host.
Holly is traditionally used in Christmas wreaths and decorations. Mistletoe has a cultural association with Christmas as well, known for the custom of kissing underneath it.
Holly plants can provide shelter and food for wildlife. Mistletoe, although parasitic, can also offer benefits to wildlife, particularly its berries which are a food source for some bird species.
Both holly and mistletoe berries are toxic to humans if ingested, but mistletoe is generally more toxic due to its parasitic nature and the compounds it contains.

Comparison Chart

Leaf Characteristics

Glossy, prickly leaves
Smooth, oval leaves

Growth Form

Shrub or tree, independent
Parasitic plant, dependent on host trees

Cultural Use

Christmas decorations, wreaths
Christmas kissing tradition

Ecological Role

Provides shelter and food for wildlife
Offers berries as food for birds


Berries are toxic if ingested
Generally more toxic, especially the berries

Holly and Mistletoe Definitions


Holly is a plant with glossy, prickly leaves and red berries.
We used holly branches to decorate the fireplace for Christmas.


Mistletoe absorbs nutrients and water from its host tree.
The mistletoe has latched onto the apple tree, drawing sustenance.


Holly can grow as a shrub or a tree.
The garden has a holly tree that provides excellent privacy.


It is known for its Christmas kissing tradition.
They shared a kiss under the mistletoe hanging in the doorway.


Its berries are attractive but toxic if ingested.
Be careful with holly berries around pets and children.


Its berries are a food source for certain bird species.
Birds feast on the mistletoe berries in winter.


It is commonly used in Christmas decorations.
The holly wreath on the door symbolizes holiday cheer.


Mistletoe is a parasitic plant with smooth leaves and white berries.
Mistletoe growing on oak trees is a common sight in this forest.


Holly is evergreen and retains its color throughout the year.
The evergreen nature of holly adds color to winter gardens.


Mistletoe is more toxic than holly, especially its berries.
Keep mistletoe out of reach to prevent accidental ingestion.


Any of numerous evergreen or deciduous trees or shrubs of the genus Ilex, especially several species having bright red berries and glossy evergreen leaves with spiny margins. Also called ilex.


Any of various hemiparasitic plants of the order Santalales that grow on the branches of other plants, especially Viscum album of Eurasia and Phoradendron leucarpum of North America, both of which have leathery evergreen leaves and waxy white berries. Extracts of the Eurasian species are sometimes used for medicinal purposes.


Branches of these plants, traditionally used for Christmas decoration.


What type of plant is holly?

Holly is an evergreen shrub or tree with prickly leaves.

How does holly benefit wildlife?

Holly provides shelter and its berries serve as a food source for wildlife.

Where is holly commonly found?

Holly is commonly found in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

Why is mistletoe considered parasitic?

Mistletoe is parasitic because it absorbs water and nutrients from its host tree.

Can holly berries be eaten?

No, holly berries are toxic and should not be ingested.

What is the significance of mistletoe at Christmas?

Mistletoe is associated with the tradition of kissing under it during Christmas.

How does mistletoe reproduce?

Mistletoe reproduces through its berries, which are spread by birds.

Does holly have flowers?

Yes, holly plants produce small white flowers.

What's the best way to remove mistletoe from a tree?

Removing the entire branch on which the mistletoe grows is the most effective method.

Are all holly plants evergreen?

Most holly species are evergreen, but some may be deciduous.

Is mistletoe ever used medicinally?

Historically, mistletoe has been used in traditional medicine, though it's not widely accepted in modern medicine.

Is mistletoe harmful to its host tree?

Yes, mistletoe can be harmful as it extracts nutrients from the host, potentially weakening it.

Can mistletoe grow on any tree?

Mistletoe prefers certain host trees, but it can grow on a variety of trees.

Can mistletoe be cultivated?

Cultivating mistletoe is challenging due to its parasitic nature, but it can be propagated under controlled conditions.

Does mistletoe have any benefits to its ecosystem?

Yes, it provides food for birds and can increase biodiversity in its ecosystem.

Are there different varieties of holly?

Yes, there are many varieties of holly with varying leaf shapes and berry colors.

How does mistletoe affect the health of a tree?

Heavy mistletoe infestation can weaken and even kill a host tree over time.

How long can a holly plant live?

Some holly plants can live for several hundred years.

Can holly be used in landscaping?

Yes, holly is popular in landscaping for its aesthetic appeal and privacy hedge.

Is it safe to bring holly indoors?

Yes, but ensure that the berries are out of reach of children and pets due to their toxicity.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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