American Holly (Ilex opaca)
Also called dune holly, white holly and of course Christmas Holly, American Holly is densely pyramidal in youth with branches growing to the ground. As it gets older its shape becomes more open and irregular. Some homeowners will remove the lower branches making look more like a typical tree with an exposed trunk.
American Holly leaves are evergreen. Stiff, glossy medium to olive green above, they are lighter beneath. Their broadly indented margins show the distinctive spines typical of most, but not all, evergreen Hollies. Measuring 2 to 4 inches long and 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide, (depending on the variety), the leaves are arranged alternately along the Holly stems. They remain attached for 3 years and are then shed in the spring. Some American Hollies have variegated leaves of cream and green.
American Holly flowers are creamy-white and small, with 4 tiny petals. Male flowers grow in small clusters where the leaves join the stems. Female ones are solitary or in smaller clusters than the male flowers. Males have 4 stamens sticking up between the petals, while females have bulb-like structures in the centers, with little stalks rising from them. Flowers of both sexes appear in late spring or early summer. Best to use one male plant for every two to three female plants to get best pollination. Stunning red berries, about 1/4 inch in diameter, appear on the female trees in mid-autumn on the current year's growth. Some varieties have yellow berries. They hang on into early spring. A favorite bird food, they should not be eaten by humans.
Range of American Holly
American Holly Choices
There are hundreds of cultivars of American Holly to choose from so you can be picky. Look for plants that bear fruit every year, have large and bright colored berries, and have a dense habit. This plant is sensitive to regional differences so make sure you buy a cultivar appropriate for your region. Cultivars vary with size and compactness, color of foliage, color berries, and shape. East Palatka has leaves with a single spine at the tip and grows rapidly. Miss Helen with red berries and Goldie with yellow berries are also widely grown. The foliage of female Stewart's Silver Crown is variegated with cream.
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