|Monday Melange: American Holly|
|Written by Heleigh Bostwick Monday, 19 December 2011|
Known for its beautiful red berries and green foliage, sprigs of the American holly (Ilex opaca) tree are the quintessential “green décor” in historic homes (and maybe yours too) during the Christmas and winter holidays. Native to the US, its range extends from northern New England (except Vermont and New Hampshire) to Florida and across to Texas and Illinois. Hardy between USDA zones 5 and 9, the berries on this broadleaf evergreen persist into winter and attract birds to the garden.
American holly is pyramidal in habit and grows to a height of 15 to 30 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide in cultivation. In the wild it may grow as tall as 50 feet, thriving in sandy soils prevalent in the coastal plain. As an aside, if you ever get a chance to visit Fire Island, NY, there’s a magnificent Sunken Forest dominated by American holly that actually grows below sea level. It’s classified as a very rare ecological habitat and is an amazing place.
American holly is easy to grow and thrives in well-drained soils in a sunny to part shade locations, but should be protected from harsh winter winds. It is salt tolerant and pollution tolerant. The leaves are quite sharp with spines on the tips. Females bear fruit only when a male pollinator plant is located within 200 feet of the female. To ensure good pollination resulting in red berries, the rule of thumb is that one male should be planted for every three females. Cultivars, including I. opaca ‘Jersey Princess’, with lustrous green leaves and bright red fruit persisting into winter, and ‘Howard’, with spineless leaves and columnar habit, typically have superior leaves and berries to the species.
American holly is a member of the Holly plant family (Aquifoliaceae). It is listed as exploitably vulnerable in New York and threatened in Pennsylvania.
Photo source: Wikimedia