Chinese Hollies (Ilex cornuta)
Chinese Hollies are beautiful densely branched evergreen shrubs or small trees. They are especially popular in the South for their ability to withstand heat. Mature specimens may live to 75 to 80 years of age. They're the first Hollies to bloom in the spring.
Bushy dense and rounded, Chinese Hollies grow from 4 to 25 feet tall, although typically they are about 9 feet tall. They will spread from 4 to20 feet, depending on the variety and how they are pruned.
Chinese Holly leaves are stiff, glossy, dark green above, lighter beneath. In most varieties they are squarish with 4 spines, one at each corner. A few varieties have more oval leaves with a single spine at their tip. They may be from 1 1/2 to 5 inches long.
Chinese Holly flowers are yellowish-green, small, with 4 tiny petals. Male flowers grow in small clusters where leaves join stems; female ones are solitary or in smaller clusters than the males. Flowers of both sexes appear in early spring. Fragrant, they last about four days. Chinese Holly is valued for its large, showy berries, 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter, the largest of all Hollies. While most Chinese Holly varieties offer orange-red fruit, some yield handsome yellow berries. They appear in large clusters on the previous year's growth.
Berries appear as tiny green dots after the female flowers fade in April and turn red by mid-autumn. They will last until early spring if the birds do not get them. They are a favorite bird food but are poisonous to humans. Although, like other Holly species the sexes grow on separate plants, Chinese Hollies are unique because female shrubs do not require pollen from a male shrub to set fruit. Berries are likely to be more abundant, though, if a male plant is located nearby.
Chinese Holly Choices
There are dozens of cultivars giving you options in terms of size, color of leaves, and color of berries. Burfordii grows rapidly. Its leaves are nearly spineless and it fruits heavily. Dazzler is compact, growing to about only about 10 feet, very glossy leaves, lots of red berries. Dr. Kassab is a good candidate for pruning into a tree since it grows to 35 feet, and has red berries. Willowleaf ,a large shrub at 15 feet tall, has long, twisting leaves. Dwarf types Rotunda and Dwarf Burford grow to only 4 feet, spreads to 8 feet and are ideal for hedges. Its leaves are nearly rectangular. Spring has cream variegated leaves; Jungle Gardens and D'Or have large yellow berries.