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A moderately large, almost pantropical family, Aquifoliaceae is represented in Australia by two genera. Ilex has two native species in rain forests of northern Australia (from the Kimberley region of Western Australia to north-east Queensland) and the introduced holly (I. aquifolium) naturalised in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. Sphenostemon, a taxonomically problematical genus, often placed in its own family or in Trimeniaceae, is restricted to rain forests of north Queensland.

Characteristic features of the family Aquifoliaceae in Australia include:

  • trees or shrubs with hard, leathery, often toothed (sometimes prickly) leaves
  • flowers small, greenish or white, 4-partite, lacking a nectary-disc, bisexual or unisexual on separate plants
  • ovary superior with an unbranched style
  • fruits fleshy


Evergreen trees or rarely shrubs. Internal secretions not obvious. Plants glabrous or with simple, non-glandular, unicellular hairs. Leaves alternate and spiral, opposite or apparently in whorls or pseudo-whorls of 3 or 4, petiolate. Stipules absent. Lamina simple, symmetric, elliptic, oblong or orbicular; base cuneate or attenuate; margins entire, dentate or spiny, ±flat, involute or incurved; venation pinnate, with the midrib conspicuous, and the tertiary venation reticulate; surfaces not punctate; leathery. Male and female flowers mostly occurring on separate plants, or rarely with all the flowers bisexual. Inflorescences terminal or axillary, consisting of racemes or cymes. Bracts and bracteoles present. Flowers stalked. Floral disc absent; nectaries absent. Perianth regular, of 2 dissimilar whorls or of 1 whorl only or all whorls ± similar, imbricate in bud. Calyx segments free or fused, with 46 sepals or lobes; calyx cup-shaped, herbaceous. Corolla segments free or fused, with (0) 46 petals or lobes, alternating with the sepals/calyx lobes; corolla wheel-shaped, white or greenish, without contrasting markings, membranous; lobes ± entire. Fertile stamens 46, opposite to sepals or calyx lobes, at least partly fused to corolla, free of ovary and style, or distinct from each other, all ± equal. Staminodes absent. Staminal filaments sometimes distinctly flattened, with embedded anther-sacs. Anthers basifixed, not versatile; opening sideways or inwards by longitudinal slits; 2-celled. Ovary superior and sessile. Carpels (2) 424, fused; ovary with (2) 412 locules. Style terminal, single, unbranched or absent and the stigma lobed and disc-shaped. Ovules 1 (2) per locule, stalked; placentation apical.
(Note: this description has been generated from the coded data compiled for the key. Any errors in the key data will be reflected in the descriptions.)

A treatment of the family Aquifoliaceae has been published in:
Flora of Australia 22: 199-204.

Australian genera of Aquifoliaceae (as recognised for the Flora of Australia)


Ilex aquifolium (fruits)
Photo: M.Fagg ANBG 

Ilex arnhemensis (flowers)
Photo: M.Fagg M.Fagg