Published on 10/16/03

Hollies offer many shapes, sizes, textures, colors

By Bob Westerfield
University of Georgia

Among the most durable and versatile plants in the landscape, hollies offer a kaleidoscope of shapes, sizes, textures and colors. Here are a few of the best choices.

Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata) typically have little, spineless leaves and small, black fruit. They have dark green leaves and make good foundation plants. Substitute them for boxwoods. Or use them in groups in front of taller plants.

Ilex crenata 'Helleri' is one of the smallest, with an attractive, spreading form. It's low-maintenance but won't tolerate poor drainage. Ilex crenata 'compacta' has interesting foliage and rarely grows more than 3 feet tall.

Where you need more height, try Ilex crenata 'Hetzi' or Ilex crenata 'Rotunidifolia.' These hollies will grow 6 to 8 feet tall, so give them plenty of space.

Many more crenata holly varieties are out there, so don't limit yourself to this small list.

Chinese hollies are a good choice if you like larger leaves, taller height and a heavy berry crop. Most have large, spiny, glossy, dark green leaves. They can get quite large, so use them as corner plantings or specimens, not as foundation plants.

Ilex cornuta 'Burfordi,' Dwarf Burford or Needlepoint are tough, reliable berry producers. They're fairly pest-free and can grow surprisingly fast.

Ilex cornuta 'Rotunda' dwarf, a heavily spined plant, is among the shorter Chinese hollies. It's sometimes used to block foot traffic or animals because of its sharp spines. This holly is so tough it's almost bombproof.

Another small cornuta, Ilex cornuta 'Carissa,' grows only 3 to 4 feet tall. Its leaves aren't the usual dark green of Chinese hollies but a lighter olive color. It's good as a foundation plant.

American holly (Ilex opaca) is the traditional Christmas holly, with large, spiny, green leaves and bright red berries. It grows up to 50 feet tall. Among the best-known cultivars are:

  • Dan Fenton, with large, glossy leaves.
  • Jersey Delight and Jersey Princess -- Jersey Knight is the male pollen source.
  • Merry Christmas, with glossy, deep green leaves and red berries.
  • Stewart's Silver Crown, with leaves edged in cream and marbled with gray-green.
  • Yellow Berry, with bright yellow berries.
English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is an evergreen tree with very spiny, glossy foliage and bright red berries. Cultivars with white variegated leaf margins are distinctive. English hollies dislike poor drainage and low temperatures and grow slowly.

Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), an eastern U.S. native, tolerates wind and hot climates better than most evergreen hollies. It has a purplish tinge on new foliage, which then turns dark green. Female plants produce small, red berries in large clusters.

Two of the best are Nana or dwarf Yaupon holly, a small, moundlike shrub 3 to 5 feet tall and very broad; and "Pendula," a weeping type 15 to 20 feet tall with beautiful berries.

Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) is a deciduous small tree 6 to 10 feet tall, with dark green, 3-inch leaves and orange to red berries that last into winter or spring.

Inkberry (Ilex glabra) is an evergreen shrub up to 10 feet tall, with thick, spineless leaves and black berries. The dwarf form, Compacta, grows to 4 feet but can be sheared to make a 2-foot hedge.

Lusterleaf holly (Ilex latifolia) is a slow-growing evergreen tree up to 30 feet tall. Its leaves, 6 to 8 inches long, are the largest of all hollies.

Meserve holly (Ilex meserveae) is a 6- to 7-foot, evergreen shrub that's very cold-hardy.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a deciduous shrub that, unlike most hollies, thrives in boggy soils. It grows 6 to 10 feet tall. Its enormous crops of bright berries last all winter.

Nellie R. Stevens is a cross between English and Chinese hollies. A fast-growing holly with a conical shape, dark green foliage and large, red berries, it's an excellent specimen tree.

(Bob Westerfield is an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Bob Westerfield is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.