The germination dynamics of Ilex aquifolium L. were studied in central Spain using a 3-year field sowing experiment. Ten triads of bags (n = 30 seeds per bag) were buried randomly in four different microhabitats: inside the holly woodland, along the forest edge, in open grassland and under isolated shrubs. Bags were harvested annually, and seeds were analysed for seed viability, embryo development changes and germination. Holly seeds did not germinate until the second year. Embryo development and seed germination were faster at the forest edge, with a total germination proportion of 63% of sown seeds. Germination in the holly woodland (48%), under the shrubs (46%) and in grassland (46%) were very similar. Thus, recruitment of Ilex populations in this region is not limited by requirements for germination. After the third year, the seed bank was reduced by 80–90% of the initial seeds, so it can be considered as a short-persistent seed bank. Holly seed behaviour can enhance recruitment in semi-open areas, such as forest edges. Linked to the short persistence of its seed bank, this species can be considered an intermediate strategist between mature forest specialists and early successional species. This work contributes to a deeper knowledge of the germination ecology of I. aquifolium, in an effort to determine the relative importance of germination/ dormancy processes within holly population dynamics.