En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - April 19, 2010

From: Plano, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pollinators, Propagation, Shrubs
Title: Compact possumhaw holly for Plano TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


What variety of possumhaw holly would be best planted close to a house? I'm looking for a variety 15-25 feet, as compact as possible. Any suggestions?


According to our page on Ilex decidua (possumhaw) in our Native Plant Database, it is a small, deciduous tree or shrub, 15-30 ft. in height. So, you probably don't need a certain variety to get the height you are looking for, and this shrub can be trimmed back to a suitable height without hurting it. 

What you DO need is two shrubs, one the plant you are asking about, a female, and another, a male, to pollinate that shrub. All members of the genus Ilex (hollies) are dioecious. That means that while both the male and female bloom, only the female has  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. This is tricky because 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.

The University of Connecticut has a list of cultivars  including "Red Escort" which is a male pollinator, a selection, and will ensure possumhaw berries for you in the winter. You will have to ask for this specifically, because a lot of people in the retail nursery trade are not aware of this trait of the hollies, and will assure you that they all get berries. Another website that has some good information on this problem is WalterReeves.com Holly-Pollination. This site makes several cultivar suggestions, as well as ways to take care of the dioecious nature of the Ilex

If you have difficulty locating what you need, go to our National Suppliers Directory, type in your town and state in the "Enter Search Location" box, and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed companies and landscape and environment consultants in your general area. They all have contact information, and you can find out if they stock or will order for you the plants you are looking for.


From the Image Gallery

Ilex decidua

Ilex decidua

Ilex decidua

Ilex decidua

More Shrubs Questions

Problems with blueberries from Kernersville NC
April 29, 2012 - My blueberry plants have no leaves or scrawny ones. I have 13 plants, 5 of them are like this.
view the full question and answer

Why is cedar pollen so heavy this year?
January 08, 2011 - Dear Mr Smarty, Is this year a heavier than normal year for cedar pollen?? If so why?
view the full question and answer

Leaves falling off a hibiscus twice a year in Woodland Hills CA
October 09, 2009 - I have 8 hibiscus bushes and only 1 of them loses its leaves twice a year. Why?
view the full question and answer

Fast-growing shrub or tree to block dust from dirt road
March 15, 2009 - I live on a dirt road in Northeast Kansas. Could you recommend a fast growing, low maintenance shrub/bush or small tree that will form a barrier to block the dust from the dirt road? It will be plante...
view the full question and answer

Red bugs have appeared on my Texas mountain laurel
April 10, 2016 - What should I do about the red bugs on my mountain laurel?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center