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

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Monday - April 19, 2010

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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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


Possumhaw
Ilex decidua

Possumhaw
Ilex decidua

Possumhaw
Ilex decidua

Possumhaw
Ilex decidua

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