The Christmas Holidays are almost upon us. I have been procrastinating terribly, in terms of decorating my house. No tree yet, no decorations up, no wreath on the door. I will probably end up poaching from my neighbors’ yards at the last minute to “Deck the Halls.” If I end up needing some “help” from my neighbors, I will be going in search of holly trees. If you love a little color with your evergreens, check out the humble holly tree.
Holly Trees in Habitats, History and Literature
During the middle ages, holly trees were planting in the garden to keep away evil spirits. It was thought to be bad luck to cut down a holly tree, so while they are useful as hedge plants to keep people or things in or out, they were not used as hedges, initially.
The berries of holly trees are tasty to small birds and other creatures, but are poisonous to humans.
If you want to have holly fruits, you need both male and female holly trees. The female trees will always have more fruits, but you need a male around for pollination purposes.
American holly, Ilex opaca, is the state tree of Delaware, and the most frequently used species for holiday decorations.
Thomas Jefferson left his heart at his farm when he went to Washington, D.C. An avid gardener throughout his life, he wrote about his trials with Holly trees in a letter to Joseph C. Cabell in a letter dated July 13, 1816 “The holly certainly will not do with us, because all but impossible to make live in our climate.” It is a good thing that his trials and tribulations did not keep holly trees out of culutivation forever!
Charles Dickens wrote a short story “The Holly-Tree Inn” for publication in Chapman & Hall’s Christmas Stories 1894 . The story is a journey through the narrator’s past travels, and takes place on Christmas Eve.
Holly Trees for the Home Gardener
Add a pop of color to your evergreen plantings with holly trees. Several different species and cultivars are hardy over a wide range and will provide some color through the winter.
Ilex xmeserveae Meserve Hybrid Hollies
These are evergreen, shrub-like plants that can grow to be up to ten feet in height and diameter. (They can also be trimmed.) Cultivars include ‘China Girl’ and ‘China boy,’ whihc produce spectacular amounts of fruit. The “Blue” series including ‘Blue Girl’ and ‘Blue Princess,’ are the most hardy–surviving down to -10 degrees F.
Ilex opaca American Holly
These are large, conically shaped trees, native to the eastern United States. There are over 1,000 cultivars of this plant, and the best cultivar for you will vary depending upon where you live.
Ilex verticillata Common Winterberry
This is the “decidious evergreen” of the holly famiy. Winterberries lose their leaves in the winter, but what is left is a gorgeous display of densly clustered red berries on the branches of this decidious shrub. ‘Winter Red’ is the best cultivar for fruit that will persist throughout the winter.
Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’
This was one of the most beloved of garden plants for gardeners in Zones 7-9. It is a self-fertilizing plant, so you do not need males an females. It also produces a massive amount of berries. It is good for organic gardeners because it is relatively pest-resistant. Older specimens have grown up to 20 or 30 feet. It also tolerates shearing.
For a Holly Jolly Holiday next year, plant some hollies!