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Holly plants offer much for the Florida landscape

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Some people automatically rule out hollies because they think of plants with spiny leaves. But not all hollies have spiny leaves. For example, many of the Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata) have spineless leaves.

The holly genus (Ilex) offers a terrific variety of plants from which to choose. Some horticulturists estimate that there are about 700 species worldwide. And there are a great number of cultivated varieties. But only twenty to maybe forty types may be available from local nurseries.

Some people automatically rule out hollies because they think of plants with spiny leaves. But not all hollies have spiny leaves. For example, many of the Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata) have spineless leaves.

Holly plants range in height from two to over sixty feet. Some of the dwarf types are great choices for foundation plantings. A few of these include Ilex crenata ‘Helleri’ (Helleri holly), Ilex cornuta ‘Carissa’ (Carissa holly), Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’ (dwarf yaupon holly) and Ilex vomitoria ‘Stokes Dwarf’.

Don’t let the word dwarf fool you. Many of the hollies in this category may reach a height of three to five feet. And ‘Dwarf Burford’, a dwarf selection of ‘Burfordii’, occasionally reaches a height of eight feet but more often is seen at five to six feet in height. But the standard Burford holly can grow to over twenty feet in height.

Some of the “tree form” hollies can reach heights approaching sixty feet. They can be used as specimen plants or used to provide a dense, tall hedge. A few of the hollies that grow into large shrubs or small trees include many of the American holly (Ilex opaca) cultivars such as ‘Miss Helen’, ‘Hedgeholly’ and ‘Savannah’.

It’s best to know the mature height before planting so that you can appropriately place plants based on the desired height to avoid unnecessary pruning.

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There are other tree form holly hybrids. A few include ‘Foster’, ‘East Palatka’, ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ and ‘Mary Nell’.

There are hollies with variegated leaves such as the English holly, Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox’. And even though most hollies are evergreen, there are a number of deciduous hollies that make nice additions to North Florida landscapes such as Ilex ambigua (Ambiguous Winterberry) and Ilex decidua (Possumhaw holly). There are hollies that produce bright red berries but berry color varies from red, orange, yellow and even black or white, depending on variety. It’s important to realize that not all holly plants produce berries, though.

Holly plants are dioecious, which means male and female flowers are located on separate plants. Only female plants produce berries. The male flowers produce pollen that is required, in most cases, to pollinate the female flowers. Many dwarf types of holly don’t produce berries because they are propagated from male plants.

There are weeping forms available such as the weeping yaupon holly. There are those that have a very narrow, upright habit such as the cultivar ‘Will Fleming’.

Larry Williams is the Extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. Contact Larry at 689-5850 or email lwilliams@myokaloosa.com.

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