The branches and leaves of a holly tree are well known for making wreaths at Christmas. The wood is also excellent for building furniture and is popular for making walking sticks. But how does it perform as firewood, and is it worth the effort to split? This guide will review holly firewood and compare it to other popular varieties.

Is holly good for firewood?

Holly is an excellent choice of firewood that provides moderately high heat output and good coaling properties. It is a dense hardwood that will burn clean with minimal smoke. The holly is typically a small tree, so its biggest complaint is not getting enough wood from them.

  • Burns clean with a mild smell.
  • Gives off moderately high heat output.
  • Not much sparking and popping.
  • Spiky leaves can be a nuisance.
Infographic displaying holly firewood statistics

Holly firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

Holly rates above average for heat as it produces 24.8 million BTUs per cord. Comparable to white ash, yew, red oak, and mulberry, it is useful for areas that experience freezing winters.

Check out the following table comparing the heat output of holly to various other common types of firewood.

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
Siberian elm20.9
Black walnut22.2
White ash24.2
Red oak24.6
Bur oak26.2
White oak29.1

2. Smoke

Seasoned holly firewood doesn’t give off much smoke. It creates a clean-burning flame that is well-suited to open fireplaces and campfires. People sensitive to smoke will appreciate that it won’t cause sore, red eyes.

Most hardwoods like apple, walnut, and holly produce minimal smoke once seasoned. Burning any green wood will create a lot of smoke.

3. Ease of splitting

The holly tree is relatively easy to split when compared to some species like elm. However, it often has a lot of knots which can make the job of splitting more of a challenge. The wood is a lot easier to process while it’s still green.

Some holly trees don’t grow much bigger than a shrub, so you may not get a lot of wood from one tree. It also has spiky leaves that are a nuisance factor if you’re felling a tree. For these reasons, some think holly is more trouble than worth.

4. Sparks

Holly gives off very few sparks as it burns and is a better option than softwoods like juniper or pine. The embers are unlikely to pop from the fireplace and burn skin or your favorite rug.

For campfires, holly is a good choice as there’s less chance of random sparks causing a forest fire.

5. Aroma

Some firewood types are known for their aroma as they burn, but holly doesn’t give off much smell. Some people, especially those with allergies, will appreciate this wood.

Holly is a hardwood that’s useful for barbecues and firepits. However, it doesn’t add much extra flavor as mesquite or apple do.

6. Coaling

Holly is a dense hardwood that burns well in the fire and produces decent coals. While its coals will give out heat longer than softwoods like spruce, it isn’t as good as oak or hickory. For a long-lasting fire, consider combining holly with oak which has exceptional coaling properties.

7. Creosote buildup

Creosote is a black tar-like substance that attaches to the chimney as the fire burns. Some wood gives off more than others, meaning the chimney needs regular cleaning.

Well-seasoned holly won’t give off much creosote in the fire. It has low levels of sap and resin, resulting in a clean burning flame. No matter what firewood you burn, it is best practice to clean a chimney yearly. Regular maintenance could prevent a house fire.

Closeup of spiky holly tree leaves on a branch.

The pros and cons of burning holly


  • Moderate-high heat output.
  • Mild fragrance will appeal to many.
  • Low sparking and popping.


  • Won’t burn as long as oak or beech.
  • Often low wood yield from one tree.

Tips for seasoning holly

Holly takes around 12 months to season, but you can reduce the waiting time by following these tips.

  • Raise the wood stack: place the firewood on pallets to create airflow.
  • Position correctly: avoid shady areas and face the exposed wood stack in the direction of prevailing winds.
  • Split immediately: increase the surface area exposed to wind and sunlight by splitting logs first.
  • Criss-cross the layers: stacking the wood in opposing directions will help it dry faster but uses up more storage space.
  • Space out the rows: build stacks with a 3-5″ gap between each to encourage air circulation.
  • Cover the stack: use a waterproof cover or woodshed to protect the piles from rain and snow but keep one side exposed to the wind.
Red berries any green leaves growing on a holly tree.

Commonly asked questions

How long does holly take to season?

Full seasoned holly takes around 12 months to season but could take longer if you live in a cool, damp climate. Unseasoned firewood will smoke and give off less heat, so give firewood the time it needs.

How do I identify the holly tree?

A mature holly tree has thin, smooth bark that is silvery or dark grey bark. Its thick, waxy leaves are oval and have an alternate pattern. Lower in the tree, sharp spines offer protection from animals. The tree is easily recognized by its characteristic red berries.

How do I identify holly wood?

Holly is pale white and dense with a medium to fine uniform texture. It has almost no visible grain pattern, although you may notice a lot of knots.

5 facts about the holly tree

  1. The scientific name for the American holly is the Ilex opaca from the family Aquifoliaceae. The Ilex aquifolium is a common species in the U.K.
  2. There are around 300 species of holly worldwide.
  3. The leaves become smoother without the spines higher up in the tree where animals can’t reach.
  4. The berries from a holly plant are poisonous to people and pets.
  5. The wood is excellent for cabinet making, joinery, instruments, veneering, and wood engraving.

Summing up

Holly is excellent for burning and provides 24.8 million BTUs per cord. It produces good coals and burns clean without popping and sparking.

Avoiding the spiky leaves and knots in the wood isn’t always easy, but your efforts will be handsomely rewarded. You’ll get quality firewood that warms your home through a long, cold winter.

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