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Thursday - March 24, 2011

From: Pflugerville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Shrubs
Title: Various holly hybrids or selections for Pflugerville TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I love Savannah Hollies. I used them all the time in the Dallas area. Now that I have moved to Austin, I am wondering if I can plant them in this area. I have a soil pH of 7 and drainage is moderate. I filled a 12" x 18" hole with water and took about 2 hours to drain. There is a lot of limestone just under the 6 inches of soil. For this matter most of the soil requirements for Bright N' Tight Cherry laurels, Foster's #2 hollies, Eagleston Hollies, and Nellie R. Stevens hollies are all the same. Do you have any other plant suggestions with this type of form that could be trained into a small tree form. Thanks for the advice.

ANSWER:

This is the kind of question that we wish we could answer "yes," "yes," "no," "absolutely not!" and "maybe." However, nothing is ever that simple. If you are already a regular reader of Mr. Smarty Plants, you know that we deal only with plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants are being grown. If you are not a regular reader (and why not?) we have some explaining to do. Some of the hollies that you mention are hybrids of two native members of the Ilex genus, some are not hybrids at all but selections of a native plant. Some we could find no real explanation of what they were. So, bear with us and look at the links we have done some research on, and see if you can follow our line of reasoning. Let's deal with the hollies, first.

The Dirt Doctor says Savannah Holly is a hybrid of Ilex opaca (American holly), or Ilex x attenuata. We don't have a native holly called "Ilex attenuata" so we went looking for that; this Auburn University Horticulture Department refers to Ilex x attenuata as a cross of Ilex cassine (Dahoon) and Ilex opaca (American holly), both native to North America. Backyardgardener.com refers to Ilex x attenuata as Foster Holly. Treeland Nursery in Dallas  says Eagleston's Holly is Ilex x attenuata.

So, are you getting our drift?? There are a number of hollies called a number of different names that are all (we think) crosses between two hollies native to North America. Some may have been developed as selections of the cross, selected and interbred for some characteristic such as height, or heavy berrying, but no other species of Ilex is involved. In other word, there is no basic difference between the various named selections.

Now, do two native plants hybridized count as a native plant? This is why we are not thrilled with hybrids; no one can really tell how the crossing of two plants is going to affect their toleration of heat and cold, flood or drouth or insect attack. So, we'll look at little more closely at Ilex opaca (American holly) and Ilex cassine (Dahoon). This USDA Plant Profile shows Dahoon grows from from the Southeast, beginning with North Carolina, to Texas, but there is no information on where in Texas it grows. If it is native to the Southeast, it is likely it needs a more acidic soil than is available in  Central Texas. This USDA Plant Profile map shows American Holly growing from Maine to Texas, but this map of Texas shows it clustered in East Texas. Conclusion (and probably strictly a guess) Ilex x attenuata, by whatever trade name, is probably not an ideal choice for the alkaline dry soils of Central Texas.

Now, let's consider Nellie R. Stevens holly; this was a chance interspecies cross between Ilex carnuta Chinese Holly, and Ilex aquifolium, English holly. Both non-native and probably not good for Central Texas. The only member of the genus Ilex that is native to Central Texas is Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon). It does not have the big glossy leaves of some of the other hollies, but it is evergreen, very accepting of pruning, and tough, doing well in alkaline soils. This USDA Map shows it as growing in Travis County and other parts of this area.

Finally, we are going to talk about Bright 'n' Tight Cherry Laurel. From Backyardgardener.com:

"'Bright 'N Tight' is a tightly branched, compact and pyramidal form of Carolina Cherry Laurel, smaller than the species. The leaves are rarely serrated. A better choice for most situations than the generic species plant. Prunus caroliniana is a large evergreen shrub, or small pyramidal tree, reaching 25 feet in height. It has a dense growth habit and is often pruned into hedge form."

So, it's good old Prunus caroliniana (Cherry laurel) native to right around here. But be warned, from our Native Plant Database page on this plant:

"Warning: The seeds, twigs, and leaves of all Prunus species contain hydrocyanic acid and should never be eaten. Leaves of Prunus caroliniana are particularly high in this toxin. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility."

Conclusions? Well, draw your own. We recommend only plants native to this area, but even those are going to need good drainage. In the soils we have around here that means working a lot of compost into the soil and not "glazing" the sides of the hole as you dig. And if you want to plant them for this year, better get it done quickly, or wait until January. In this climate, woody plants should be planted in early Spring or late Winter, preferably the latter.

Pictures of Ilex cassine from Google.

Pictures of Ilex x attenuata from Google.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Ilex opaca


Ilex vomitoria


Prunus caroliniana

 


 


 

 

 

 

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