Sunday, December 25, 2016

Jolly Holly

Possumhaw (Ilex decidua)
Hollies are one of the most used plants for winter decorations such as Christmas. The most familiar species are the evergreen ones that have bright red berries such as American holly (Ilex opaca). In Georgia, this species is widely distributed throughout the state and makes a fine landscape tree.

Hybrids of American holly are used in landscaping more often than the plain species; Ilex x attenuata cultivars are crosses between Ilex opaca and the southern dahoon holly, Ilex cassine. Hybrids such as ‘Savannah,’ 'East Palatka,’ and ‘Fosteri’ are robust female plants with heavy fruit set (and fewer spines on the leaves) that require little to no cross-pollination. Some of these hybrids were found in the wild as natural crosses.

American holly (Ilex opaca)

Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)
Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is an evergreen holly that is also often used, even outside of its natural range in the Coastal Plain. It is popular for several reasons. It has small, spineless evergreen leaves. It grows well in landscaped areas throughout the state. Several dwarf forms are suitable as small shrubs such as around home foundations (where they are sheared into meatball shapes but I think they look great when left unpruned as well). Female plants, which are not usually the dwarf forms, have tiny red fruits that have a bit of a translucent look, quite different from of the opaque berries of American holly.

Georgia has two other evergreen hollies located in the Coastal Plain: dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) and myrtle holly (Ilex myrtifolia). Both have red fruits.

Red-fruited hollies are not always evergreen. Georgia has at least 6 species of deciduous hollies, all of which have red fruits. The leafless winter stems of these species can be spectacular and the horticultural world has noticed. Cultivars of both possumhaw (Ilex decidua) and winterberry (Ilex verticillata) are available in the trade. When choosing, be sure to determine if you’re buying a male or a female and that you have compatible males and females eventually (you can have more females than males).

Ilex verticillata
Ilex decidua

The remaining deciduous native hollies in Georgia include two in the Coastal Plain (Ilex amelanchier and Ilex ambigua) and two in the northern part of the state (Ilex montana and Ilex longipes).

Ilex glabra
Evergreen hollies don’t always have red fruits. There are several species that have dark blue fruits. The two species in Georgia are large (or sweet) gallberry (Ilex coriacea) and the smaller one known as inkberry (Ilex glabra). Both like to grow in moist areas. Inkberry can be found in the nursery trade and is available in forms that are dwarf and compact; look for ‘Shamrock,’ ‘Compacta,’ ‘Nigra,’ and ‘Densa’ and carefully check for male/female suitability if you want berries (the ones listed are noted as females while ‘Nordic’ and ‘Pretty Boy’ are male).

Native hollies are great additions to the home landscape. They are beautiful, adaptable and important to wildlife. The small but numerous flowers are important to native bees. Gallberry honey, which is produced by European honey bees, comes from nectar gathered from Ilex coriacea and Ilex glabra. All the berries are popular with birds that eat fruit. Consider adding a regionally appropriate holly to your landscape next year.


  1. That first photo, the one you call possemhaw...I wonder if that is the one that I have photographed at Stone Mountain, I will have to put it on my blog so you can tell me! Happy HOLLY days! :-)

  2. Never mind, I just did some more research and that's not it. Oh well!