One of my favorite winter plants is a holly. I love the contrasting rich green leaves and bright red berries against the grey of winter. The holly family (Ilex spp.) can be incorporated into a landscape in a variety of ways: a tree, a shrub, deciduous or evergreen. You’ll find plants that grow only 18 inches tall, as well as trees as tall as 60 feet. The leaves may be hard and spiny or soft to the touch. Most are dark green, but you can also find purple tints and variegated forms. With so much variation in holly varieties, you’re sure to find one to fill your landscape need.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of hollies. There are two common types of holly categories: evergreen and deciduous. Here are some popular types of holly shrubs to grow in the landscape.
• Chinese Holly (I. cornuta) – These evergreen shrubs have dark green leaves with pronounced spines. They tolerate hot temperatures, but sustain winter damage in areas colder than USDA plant hardiness zone 6. The different types of hollies in this group include “Burfordii,” which is one of the most popular cultivars for hedges, and “O. Spring,” a variegated type with irregular bands of yellow on the leaves.
• Japanese Holly (I. crenata) – Japanese hollies are generally softer in texture than Chinese hollies. They come in a range of shapes sizes with endless uses in the landscape. These hollies don’t do well in areas with hot summers, but they tolerate colder temperatures than the Chinese hollies. “Sky Pencil” is a dramatic columnar cultivar that grows up to 10 feet tall and less than two feet wide. “Compacta’ is a neat, globe-shaped group of Japanese hollies.
• American Holly (I. opaca) – These North American natives grow into up to 60 feet tall, and a mature specimen is a landscape treasure. Although these types of hollies are common in woodland settings, they aren’t often used in residential landscapes because they grow very slowly. “Old Heavy Berry” is a vigorous cultivar that bears lots of fruit.
• Inkberry Holly (I. glabra) – Similar to Japanese hollies, inkberries are distinguished by their black berries. Species types tend to have bare lower branches because they drop their lower leaves, but cultivars such as “Nigra” have good lower leaf retention.
Yaupon Holly (I. vomitoria) – Yaupon is a group holly plant varieties with small leaves that have a purplish tint when young. Some of the more interesting types have white berries. The leaves on “Bordeaux” have a deep, burgundy tint that becomes darker in winter. ‘Pendula’ is a graceful, weeping holly often used as a specimen plant.
• Possumhaw (I. decidua) – Taking the form of either a multi-stemmed shrub or small tree, possumhaw grows to heights of 20 to 30 feet. It sets a heavy load of dark orange or red berries which remain on the branches after the leaves fall.
• Winterberry holly (I. verticillata) – Winterberry is very similar to possumhaw, but it grows only 8 feet tall. There are several cultivars to choose from, most of which set fruit earlier than the species.
Amanda Bailey Mosiman is the Ag and Natural Resource Extension Educator for Purdue Extension-Warrick County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-897-6100.