English Hollies (Ilex aquifolium)
English Hollies come to us from Europe and Asia. Hundreds of varieties of this Holly are grown in this country, primarily to produce Christmas decorations. They are slow-growing evergreen shrubs that grow in a compact, pyramidal shape into handsome trees.
English Hollies grow as shrubs 3 to 4 feet tall. In maturity they become trees 30-50 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide. They can be kept to manageable size by pruning. English Hollies grow best on both coasts, where the atmosphere is more humid, but do poorly in the central Plains states where summers are hot and dry (zone 6). English Hollies prefer milder winters where temperatures seldom dip below 5° F. However, they cannot take the summers much farther south than Virginia (zone 7).
English Holly leaves vary greatly, according to the variety. They may be from 1-1/2 to 4 inches long, and 1 to 2 inches wide. They are evergreen, shiny green, more or less oval. Some varieties have with smooth edges, others having the spiny edges characteristic of Hollies. English Holly leaves have a pleasant glossy sheen. Those on older shrubs tend top lose their spines.
The flowers are small, greenish-yellow, with 4 tiny petals. Male flowers grow in small clusters where the leaves join the branches. Female flowers are solitary or in smaller clusters than the males. Flowers of both sexes appear late spring or early summer. Pea-sized bright red berries appear in mid-autumn on the previous year's growth and unless devoured by birds, persist into January or later, depending on the variety. They're a favorite bird food, but should not be eaten by humans.
English Holly Choices
There are many cultivars of English Holly. They vary in size, leaf color and leaf size, berry size, and hardiness. Aurea-marginata has leaves somewhat larger than the species, with silvery edges. Angustifolia (Narrowleaf English Holly) has smaller, narrow leaves. Boulder Creek has very dark green leaves, brilliant red fruits. Camilliaefolia is very popular with large berries and few spines on leaves that turn bronze in the winter. Yellow Beam has yellow berries. Variegated selections include `Nellie Stevens' which handles some heat well and does well in the Southeast. Other heat lovers Gold Coast, Golden Milkmaid, Silvary, Silver Edge, and Wieman's Moonbright. Hybrids of English Holly (leaf spines small or nonexistent) are J.C. van Tol, Wieman's Favorite, Winter Queen, and Wilsonii.