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Sunday - January 03, 2010

From: Eufaula, OK
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pollinators, Compost and Mulch, Propagation, Shrubs
Title: Duplicate of English holly for Eufaula OK
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I wish to have a shrub that would duplicate the red berries and foliage of English holly. Tolerance of cultivation is also desired.


We're not sure we can duplicate the English holly, Ilex aquifolium, but there is another member of the genus Ilex, Ilex opaca (American holly), native to Oklahoma, that will give it a good run for the money. 

Now, here's the tricky part. You indicated you wanted the red berries and foliage. The American holly has the berries and foliage, but both it and the English holly, and indeed all members of the genus Ilex, are dioecious. That means that while both the male and female bloom, only the female bears berries. And, in order for the female to have berries, there must be a male of the same species within about a 40 ft. radius, that blooms at the same time. The reason this is tricky is that if you go into a plant nursery in the Spring, all the hollies will be blooming. If you go into that nursery in the Fall, they will all have red berries on them. Because only the females have berries, and most people want the berries, the nursery will be stocked with female plants which have been pollinated by males before they were shipped to the nursery. For the nursery trade, propagation of the holly is by taking cuttings, which means that every plant is identical to the parent plant, or clones. If the parent plant was female, all the offspring will be female, too. So, if you buy a holly with red berries on it, it blooms in the Spring, and then has no berries in the Fall, what happened? You have a female but no male of the same species blooming at the same time in the area, and no berries.

According to one source, the male American holly will have 3 to 7 flowers in a cluster, while the female flowers are solitary.  You could probably wander around, counting flowers in clusters, or maybe you can trust your nursery to assure you get a male plant, as well as the female plants. We understand there is one cultivar of the American Holly, 'Jersey Knight', that are all male, and good pollinators. 

For further information on the American holly, follow the link above to our page on that plant, find out how big it ordinarily grows, and what light requirements it has. Note that it likes a somewhat acidic soil with very good drainage. We would suggest you prepare a hole for each plant before you purchase them, and mix in compost for both drainage and adding acidity. Pine bark mulch is also good to apply over the root area and will add to the acidity of the soil. Oh, and one more thing. You said you wished to have tolerance of cultivation. No holly likes for its roots to be disturbed, so if by cultivation you mean you're going to be applying the hoe around that plant, don't.

Compare these pictures from Google of English holly with the pictures of American holly below from our Native Plant Image Gallery.


From the Image Gallery

American holly
Ilex opaca

American holly
Ilex opaca

American holly
Ilex opaca

American holly
Ilex opaca

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