. . . . . is a dead man walking.
Do you see the problem? Can you determine why this tree's fate has been sealed?
The bark has separated from the trunk and fallen off, nearly all the way around. This is fatal. This tree still lives, but its death warrant has already been signed.
I've had this happen too many times before to hold out any hope that an injury this severe will heal itself. The tree will continue to carry on for a while and it will start to form a callus to seal the wound, but there is simply too little bark left. It will go into slow decline and in the end, it will die.
It happened to my linden in the front yard, it happened to the first katsura I planted, it happened to other trees I have nurtured and lost. I'll lose this one too.
The holly's bark is thin, and this probably started with sunscald when February got so warm this winter, since it appears to be worse on the south side, and only the north side has even a tiny strip of bark left. Mild winters are the worst -- the sun is so warm on the trunk in the daytime, and woody plants break dormancy where the sun hits, but then night temperatures freeze the newly active tissues and kill them.
Normally the tree forms a scar around the dead area and recovers. This holly's damage is far too extensive for that.
I'm having trouble staying engaged with my garden and plants this year. We'll be moving at some point in the future, and I'm starting to divest emotionally. Losing this Ilex opaca, after all the other trees I have lost and just as it was finally becoming a beautiful form is one more catalyst in my uneasy parting.
I simply can't any more.