Hollies bring character and color to homes and gardens in all seasons. The botanical name, Ilex, is a genus of over 500 species of evergreen (and some deciduous) trees, shrubs, and climbers. These are spread over temperate and tropical zones, and range from those that prefer high altitudes to those that do better at sea level.
Plants in the Ilex genus are most well known for their simple, glossy, and often spiny, rich green leaves which, in the female plants, are complemented with beautiful red berries in the fall and winter. These berries are extremely important for the survival of birds and other wildlife, but are toxic to humans, causing nausea and vomiting if ingested.
In general, hollies prefer neutral or acidic soil, and thrive when the soil contains plenty of organic matter. Most do well in full sun to partial shade. Regular watering is needed until the plant is established, and then the watering needs are determined by the characteristics of the particular holly tree or shrub.
Below are some of the varieties carried here at Maas Nursery. Each has its own beauty that can only be appreciated by seeing it in person. Please call ahead to be sure your favorite kind of holly is in stock.
Height: 20 to 30 feet, tending to have a rounded shape.
The Yaupon holly is native to the Gulf Coast of Texas and the southeastern United States. It has tiny ovate leaves about a half inch to an inch long, and the female has red berries in fall and winter. This variety loves the full sun, and once established it is drought tolerant and tolerant of seacoast exposure as well. It has been found in elevations of up to 500 feet.
Pride of Houston Yaupon Holly:
An improved variety of the Texas native Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, with females having heavy fruit production. Can grow to 25 feet tall as a shrub or trimmed into a tree. Because of its dense small leaves it can be trimmed into topiary shapes.
Weeping Yaupon Holly:
Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula
Height: 12 to 15 feet, pendulous branches
Spread: 4 to 6 feet, growth habits are arching, pendulous branchlets, weeping, or cascading.
The weeping yaupon has the same drought tolerant and sun loving characteristics of the non-weeping yaupon, except for its exotic growth habit.
Dwarf Yaupon Holly:
Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’
Height: 3 to 5 feet
Spread: 3 to 6 feet
The ‘Nana’ or Dwarf Yaupon’s leaves are the same as the larger variety, and it is just as tough. It can be pruned to a small hedge, or over time, a small tree. It is also good for creating topiary.
Ilex vomitoria ‘Gremicr’
Height: 20 to 30 inches
Spread: 3 feet, round, mounding shape
This very outstanding “mini” bush is said to never need pruning because it grows slowly and tends to keep a round shape. The leaves are similar to, but about half the size of the yaupon, and there is no mention of berries in the short history of this variety. Once it is established it is drought tolerant, and it can take full sun along with all kinds of soil.
It has been developed from a naturally occuring cultivar of the dwarf yaupon holly, discovered in 1999 and developed by Greenleaf Nursery. A patent was issued for it in 2010.
Will Fleming Holly:
Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’
Height: 12 to 15 feet
Spread: 2 to 3 feet, columnar shape
The Will Fleming holly is a male cultivar yaupon, so there are no berries. Because of its columnar shape, it is good for an accent plant or for planting in rows. It was discovered by Mr. Will Fleming in east Texas.
Ilex vomitoria ‘Scarlet’s Peak’
Height: 20 feet
Spread: 3 feet, columnar shape
Now the Italian Cypress has some competition! The Scarlet’s Peak hollies are full of color in the fall and winter because they are very good berry producers, and the tall narrow shape is attractively unique. They are also very new as the plant was discovered in 2005 as a result of chance open pollination in a nursery in Perkinston, Mississippi. A patent was issued for it in 2009.
Height: 8 to 12 feet, can occasionally reach 20’
Spread: 6 to 10 feet, large shrub or small tree
This is a holly that loses its leaves in winter, so that its beautiful berries give a stunning show alone on the branches. It is a native tree that can be found across the southeastern United States and areas in Central and East Texas. Birds and other wildlife feed on the berries. Other names it goes by are the Meadow Holly, Prairie Holly, Swamp Holly, Welk Holly, and the Winterberry.
Mary Nell Holly:
Ilex Mary Nell
Height: 10 to 20 feet tall
Spread: 10 feet, pyramidal shape
The Mary Nell Holly enjoys full sun and tolerates some shade, and does best in zones 7 through 9. The red berries seem to grow in a spiral around the stem, and stay on the branch from the fall through winter, unless eaten by birds. It can be pruned to a either a tree or shrub form and used as an evergreen shrub border, hedge, standing alone, or in a small group.
Ilex Mary Nell is a holly developed from a Burford Holly (Ilex cornuta) and Red Delight Holly (Ilex pernyi) hybrid crossed with Ilex latifolia. All three of these parent hollies originated in eastern Asia, but the controlled cross was made in 1962 by a professor of horticulture, Dr. Joe McDaniel, at Tom Dodd Nursery in Semmes Alabama. Nineteen years later a selection was made from this controlled cross and was named for Dr. McDaniel’s widow, Mary Nell.
Ilex x attentuata Fosteri
Height: 20 to 30 feet
Spread: 10 to 20 feet, pyramidal shape
The female Foster holly will produce berries without the male, but will produce the most when exposed to full sun. This variety has glossy green, dense foliage. The leaves are elliptically shaped with up to 5 very small and well spaced spiny marginal teeth on both sides of the leaf (looking down on the surface of the leaf). It was developed in the 1950’s by E. E. Foster of Foster Nursery in Alabama. The Foster is a hybrid of 2 species native to the United States, Ilex cassine (the Dahoon Holly) x Ilex opaca (the American Holly). They make good street trees, screens and hedges, and can tolerate seacoast exposure well.
Ilex Cornuta Burfordii
Height: 10 to 25 feet
Spread: 15 to 25 feet, rounded crown shape.
This Eastern Asian variety has remarkably dark, glossy green leaves that have a single spine at the end of a 2 inch leaf. Because it is self fertile, it produces berries without pollination. The springtime flowers are white, fragrant, and attract bees. The large, long lasting berries are bright red and contrast beautifully with the deep green leaves. It can take full sun and needs regular watering.
Dwarf Burford Holly:
Ilex Cornuta Burfordii Nana
Height: 4 to 6 feet
Spread: More often wider than it is tall.
This round, compact bush is a miniature version of the full size Burford. It also produces berries without pollinization. The leaves are a beautiful and glossy deep green, but appear somewhat more puckered than the full sized Burford leaves.
East Palatka Holly:
Ilex x attenuata ‘East Palatka’
Height: 30 to 45 feet
Spread: 10 to 15 feet, narrow pyramid or columnar shape, very attractive trimmed into a tree shape.
The East Palatka Holly was discovered in 1927 close to the town of the same name in Florida. It is a natural hybrid of the American holly and the Dahoon holly. The 2 to 4 inch matte green leaves are more rounded and flexible than most hollies and only have one spine at the tip.
Once established it is drought tolerant. It prefers acidic soil conditions, and can adapt to both clay and sandy soils. It is tolerant of full sun and partial shade, and can grow up to 2 feet per year in zones 8 thru 10. The female trees are full of red berries in fall and winter. It is also very attractive trimmed into a tree shape.
Ilex x attenuata ‘Savannah’
Height: 30 to 45 feet
Spread: 6 to 10 feet, narrow pyramidal to columnar form.
The Savannah Holly is native to North America in zones 6 thru 9. While there are both male and female trees, those found in nurseries are female so they will produce an abundance of berries. The leaves are medium to dark green with soft spines and wavy margins.
This variety prefers full sun to partial shade and moist acidic soil. If the area in which it’s to be planted is alkaline, the soil may need amending. The tree may be drought tolerant once it is established, but it will suffer in extreme droughts if not watered. The roots are thought to be less invasive because they are narrow in diameter and more plenteous.
Nellie R. Stevens:
Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’
Height: 20 to 30 feet
Spread: 10 feet, broad, pyramidal growth habit
The beautiful leaves of this variety are green, very glossy, thick and spiny. They are approximately 3 inches by 1 1/2 inches when mature. The berries are brilliant red and ripen late. This plant does well in moist but well drained soil, and can take full to partial sun.
The Nellie R. Stevens holly was the Holly Society of America’s choice as “Holly of the Year 2011”. It has actually been in existence for more than 100 years, being a hybrid of the Chinese and English hollies. The story goes that Nellie R. Stevens, a Maryland schoolteacher, visited the U.S. Botanic Gardens in the nation’s capitol way back in 1900. She took some berries home with her, but the trees that she had grown were not officially recognized until her niece brought in the American Holly Society to identify them sometime between 1952 and 1954. The experts recognized a new variety that has since been extremely popular.
Sky Pencil Holly:
Height: 8 to 10 feet
Spread: 1 to 1 1/2 feet, columnar shape
The Sky Pencil was the Holly Society of America’s ‘Holly of the Year’ in 2004. This variety was introduced to this country from Japan in 1985. The leaves are dark green and rounded, and the berries are black and insignificant to the point of not being noticeable. The fact that it doesn’t grow over 10 feet is ideal for many home garden design plans. Its tall and narrow shape can make it the perfect accent plant, or it can be used for being planted in a row or hedge.
Ilex cornuta ‘Carissa’
Height: 3 to 4 feet
Spread: 4 to 6 feet, round
This shrub is often wider than it is tall. The leaves are 2 to 3 inches by 1 inch deep, glossy green, and are rubbery tough with a very sharp spine at the end. It is low growing and is said to need almost no pruning to keep its round shape. It is also tolerant of a wide range of soil types and soil pH. The berry production is not as full as the Burford, as the Carissa is more known for its shape and foliage. This is a type of Chinese holly that was first discovered in 1809 after an early spring snow storm on the campus of the University of Georgia.
Height: 14 feet
Spread: 8 feet, pyramidal shape
This hybrid is in the “Red Holly Hybrid” group, so named because new growth is reddish in color. The mature leaves are very large, serrated, and dark green, and the berries turn orange-red in the fall. It is boasted to tolerate any soil type, and does well with both full sun and part sun. The root system is described as fibrous and is said to establish rapidly. The Liberty Holly can easily be trained into a small tree.
This variety is the result of an open pollination between the Mary Nell Holly and the Red Delight Holly. The seedling was discovered in 1989 by Jack Mitchell Magee of the Evergreen Nursery at Poplarville, Mississippi and the patent was issued in 2001.
Height: 15 to 20 feet
Spread: 12 to 15 feet, pyramidal shape
The leaves of this stately holly are said to resemble oak leaves, and are a glossy medium to dark green. The dense branches are heavily speckled with orange-red berries in the fall, and require little or no pruning. It can take full to part sun with well drained garden soil. This variety was discovered by Jack Mitchell Magee in 1994 as a naturally occurring branch sport of the Ilex ‘Conaf’, and the patent was issued in 2003.
Height: 15 to 30 feet tall, can grow up to 50 feet in the southeast
Spread: 10 to 20 feet
This native holly occurs throughout the eastern and central United States. The medium green leaves are spiny and elliptical; the word “opaca” in the botanical name means opaque or dull referring to the non-glossy leaf surface. There must be a male nearby for the female to produce berries. It is listed as having low to medium drought tolerance. Otherwise known as the Christmas Holly, the berry laden branches are popular for Christmas decorations.