Native yaupon holly with bright red berries

Native yaupon holly with bright red winter berries. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Holly plants are sometimes 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 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.

One way to know that you’ve selected a female holly is by purchasing a plant with berries. However, you still will 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 female plants in a landscape. Your next-door neighbor may have a male holly plant that would serve as a pollinator for your hollies. Pollen produced by male flowers is transported by bees from distances up 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.

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!  When selecting a holly for your landscape, it is important to know that most dwarf holly cultivars don’t produce fruit as they are propagated by cuttings from male plants.  Not all hollies have spiny leaves. For example, many of the Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata) have spineless leaves. There are hollies that grow tall, eventually making a tree. There are dwarf hollies that grow to only three to five feet in height. There are hollies with variegated leaves. And even though most hollies are evergreen, there are a few deciduous hollies that make nice additions to North Florida landscapes such as Ilex ambigua (Ambiguous Winterberry) and Ilex decidua (Possumhaw holly). Some hollies produce bright red berries but berry color varies from red, orange, yellow and even black or white, depending on variety. There are weeping forms available such as the weeping yaupon holly. There are those that have a very narrow, upright growth habit.

For more info on this diverse and interesting group of plants, visit the below UF/IFAS Extension webpage.

http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/shrubs/holly.html

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