En EspaŅol

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
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 Propagation Questions

Planting iris rhizomes in Wisconsin
October 10, 2008 - I live in central WI and was given some iris bulbs (think they are called Rhizomes) and have no idea how to go about planting them. I am very new to planting so step by step instructions with good de...
view the full question and answer

What to do with agave after it blooms from Phoenix AZ
March 12, 2013 - Hello! I have 2 century plants in the process of blooming. How exciting!! I've never really seen it before. Anyway, what do I then do with the dying/dead plant. Simply dig it up and trash it? T...
view the full question and answer

Germination and propagation of bluebonnets
April 25, 2005 - I live in Austin. Last fall I spread a load of dirt on my lawn to provide soil contact for the 2 pounds of bluebonnet seeds I subsequently spread (this was in early November). The germination rate a...
view the full question and answer

Propagation of Simsia calva from Albuquerque NM
January 27, 2014 - Hi - I was given some simsia calva seed from the LBJ wildflower center. It doesn't have a lot of info about starting the seeds, so any help is much appreciated! I tried starting some outdoors last ye...
view the full question and answer

How to transplant agarita in Floresville, TX.
March 10, 2010 - How is the best way to propagate Agarita? I have acres of them in the pasture but want some for the house landscape and to grow. I was told they go dormant for a year if you dig them up to transplan...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center