Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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?

Share

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
1 rating

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

QUESTION:

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

ANSWER:

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

More Propagation Questions

Propagation of non-native Selenicereus Antonyanus from Warwick RI
March 24, 2012 - I just purchased a Selenicereus Anthonyanus, Rick Rack Cactus unrooted. I have searched on the web of the proper way to root the plant and have had no luck except it says easy rooting but not how to r...
view the full question and answer

Making Ruellia nudiflora thicker in pot from Tucson AZ
June 25, 2012 - Can Ruellia Nudiflora be propagated in the same pot as the parent plant? Can it be cut back to stimulate a denser plant? I have plants in several pots and would like to 'thicken' the plant. Tha...
view the full question and answer

Source for Frostweed plants or seeds from Portland TX
June 23, 2013 - I am looking for somewhere I can buy Frostweed plants or seeds. I live in Portland, TX, but frequent San Antonio and the Hill Country. Can you help me with this?
view the full question and answer

I have a plant with plantlets on its leaves. What is it?
April 14, 2008 - Pardon my inexperience. I received a plant as a gift, that is quite similar to aloe, yet smaller. It "bloomed" with tiny paired leaves sprouting from each of the serrations along the larger leav...
view the full question and answer

Wildflowers after controlled burn in New Braunfels, TX
February 19, 2009 - I live in the Hill Country a few miles north of New Braunfels. As soon as we get enough rain to lift our burn ban, I will be thinning out some of my Ashe juniper and will do some burning in the open ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.