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Not all holly plants produce berries for Christmas

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The reason your hollies never produce berries may be because you have a male plant. Male holly plants will never produce berries.

Hollies are one of the plants associated with Christmas. Their dark evergreen leaves and bright red berries fit right in with the Christmas Season. Some people intentionally plant hollies for the purpose of eventually using this desirable combination of green and red to create a more festive Holiday Season. But what if your hollies never produce berries?

The reason may be because you have a male plant. Male holly plants will never produce berries. Holly plants are either male or female. The botanical term for this is dioecious.

If a male plant is selected, it will produce male flowers and pollen but never set fruit.

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A foolproof way of knowing that you’ve selected a female holly is to look for and purchase a plant with berries. However, you will still need a male plant nearby or no berries will be produced.

Generally one male plant is adequate to insure pollination and good fruit set of berries on all the female plants in a landscape. Your next-door neighbor may have a male holly plant that would serve as a pollinator for your holly plants. Pollen produced by the male flowers is transported by bees from distances up to 1½ to 2 miles. And because we are blessed with a number of native hollies in North Florida, chances are good that there will be a male holly within the appropriate distance in the wild to take care of the pollination.

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Most dwarf holly cultivars do not produce fruit since they are vegetatively propagated from male plants.

There are other popular landscape plants that are dioecious.

The aucuba or gold dust plant has separate male and female plants. The female produces colorful fruit. The fruit are ½ inch long, scarlet colored berries that mature in October and November. Many years the fruit persist through the following spring. This shade loving plant is not grown for its fruit but rather its bold, sometimes variegated leaves. But if you plant a female aucuba, an extra bonus would be its attractive berries.

Pampas grass is dioecious. You may not have noticed but the plume-like flowers that appear in September differ between male and female plants. The female plants produce plumes that are broad and full due to silky hairs covering the tiny flowers. The male plumes appear narrow and thin because of the absence of hair on the flowers.

Many nurseries produce pampas grass from seed and as a result there will be a mixture of male and female plants. So if uniformity were desired, it would be better to propagate the plants by dividing female plants and then planting the divisions (clumps). Every clump coming from a female plant will also be a female because it is essentially a clone of the parent plant.

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@co.okaloosa.fl.us.

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