Uncovering the Unique and Different Types of Holly Bushes

Holly bushes
When talking about holly bushes, most people don't know that the berries on these bushes were so useful that they were actually cultivated in medieval Europe to provide food for cattle. There's a lot more information about these wondrous plants that could make you marvel on its value.
Holly bushes (botanical name - Ilex) are a genus containing more than 400 species. They are ornamental plants that have been used for decoration and as hedges since ages. Different types of holly bushes are used widely in flower gardens all across Europe and America. They are also found in parts of Asia and Africa. These bushes are dark evergreen plants with bright-colored berries which serve as a great source of food for birds and herbivores. They can grow up to considerable heights like 60 feet and above. They are naturally very hardy, which means they can endure extreme climates without withering.
Blue Holly: Ilex Meserveae
Blue Holly
This variety of holly gets its name from its creator, Mrs. F. Leighton Meserve from New York. Mrs. Meserve used two different types of hollies, Ilex Rogusa (which was strong but not very attractive) and Ilex Aquifolium (which was attractive but not very hardy) and created a hybrid in the early 1960s. This hybrid was both attractive and hardy. The first hybrids were called Blue Boy and Blue Girl (as hollies are males or females). Later, as more hybrids were created, they got different names like Blue Prince and Blue Princess, Blue Maid and Blue Stallion, Blue Angel, Honey Maid, Golden Girl, etc.

These bushes are dark green, and bear bright red berries. They are one of the most commonly found varieties and grow up to a height of 9 to 12 feet. As they grow, their foliage turns from dark green to a waxen blue-green color. This is why they are called Blue Holly. Their berries are useful if you wish to attract robins or other small birds to your garden, as they are favorites of birds and insects. Apart from attracting birds, they also serve as wonderful garden hedge plants. Their dark green foliage punctuated with bright red berries gives your garden a festive look all throughout the year.
Japanese Holly: Ilex Crenata
Japanese Holly
This type grows slowly, but can live longer than 75 years. The distinguishable feature of this holly is that, though its branching habit is dense, its leaves are textured delicately and are spiked. The berries are generally black, but on some Japanese Holly bushes, they are a shade of golden yellow.

Other names and varieties that come under the Japanese Holly are Convexa, Microphylla, Dwarf Pagoda, Green Lustre, etc. These types grow up to an average height of 2 to 13 feet. They are hardy and can be pruned severely. This feature makes them an excellent choice for strong and tall garden hedges.
American Holly: Ilex Opaca
American Holly
The American Holly, as the name suggests, is among the native American holly bushes. This type grows up to a height of 15 to 30 feet. The foliage is deep green and the leaves are small and pointed. They bear bright scarlet berries. Some other cultivars of the American Holly are Cobalt, Cardinal Hedge, Miss Helen, etc. The American Holly is widely used as an ornamental plant for landscape designs in gardens across America and Europe and also for festive decorations.
Chinese Holly: Ilex Cornuta
Chinese Holly
The Chinese Holly is a very densely foliated shrub that can grow up to a height of 25 feet. The leaves are deep, glossy green and the bush is rounded. The berries are initially tiny and light green, and they grow and progressively turn yellow and finally auburn. This variety is the first one that bears flowers and fruit in the spring and has the largest berries among all the holly varieties.

The unique feature about this shrub is that it can bear berries independent of male shrubs. However, berries grow abundantly if there is a male shrub in the vicinity. Since the foliage is almost impermeable, this bush is perfect to be used a privacy hedge. Some of its cultivars are Dwarf Burford, Carissa, etc.
Inkberry Holly: Ilex Glabra
Inkberry Holly
The Inkberry Holly is probably the hardiest of all the kinds of holly. It can withstand extreme cold, a fair amount of heat and grows well in wet and marshy swamp areas. The leaves, which are bright green in the beginning, turn dark and glistening green as they mature. As the plant grows older, it begins to droop towards the ground. The Inkberry Holly grows up to 8 to 10 feet. The black berries that it bears are a good source of food for birds. Since this shrub does not have a very thick foliage, it can be used as a bordering decoration around ponds, bridges, buildings, etc. Some cultivars are Shamrock, Nordic, Nigra, etc.
English Holly: Ilex Aquifolium
English Holly
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The English Holly is a native plant of Europe. It was brought to North America to be used as an ornamental plant. An average English Holly can grow up to 30 feet. The foliage is thick and the leaves are pointed and sharp around the edges. The leaves are a deep shade of green, waxy and have a shiny appearance. The flowers are sweet-smelling and the berries are deep red. The English Holly berries are poisonous if ingested by humans. Even birds and insects wait until the berries are fully ripe before they consume the berries as they are extremely bitter. Its cultivars include Rubricaulis Aurea, Peter's, etc.
How to Plant a Holly Bush
If good care is not taken during planting, holly bushes will not be able to serve their purpose and your garden might turn out to look hideous! Read on to know more about how you can plant them.
  • First dig a deep hole in the soil where you intend to keep the bush, as they don't grow well if transferred from one location to another. The hole should be almost as deep as the container from which you will be planting the bush, and at least thrice as wide.
  • Then, carefully remove the bush and place it in the hole.
  • Holly bushes grow well in sunlight but they grow reasonably well in shade too. So, plant the bushes in a spot where they get almost equal amount of sunlight and shade.
  • The peculiarity of these bushes is that they are dioecious, i.e., each plant has only one set of reproductive organs, either male or female. Hence, for pollination to take place, it is necessary that male and female bushes are planted within a distance of 5 to 6 feet from each other.
  • After planting the bushes, water them generously.
  • Then fertilize the bushes with an acidic fertilizer as they prefer acidic soil.

Tip: The best time to plant a holly bush is at the beginning of winter, and in a swampy area, as hollies prefer wet areas. They are slow growers but add a merry look to your garden!
How to Identify if a Bush is Male or Female
As mentioned earlier, holly bushes are dioecious. Even though they are inherently male and female individually, it becomes rather difficult to 'identify' a male from a female at first glance. Read the tips given below to know how to identify one from the other.
  • By Flowers: Both male and female holly bushes bear flowers with 4 petals. If you take a minute look at the center of the flowers, you will notice either 4 yellow stamens or a green bulb-like structure. The flowers with yellow stamens are males and the ones with green bulbs are females.
  • By Berries: Generally, it is only female bushes that produce berries due to pollination. Hence, it is quite safe to say that holly bushes with berries are female and the ones without berries are males.
Hope this article has helped you. The next time you think of landscaping or want to spiffy up your garden, make sure you choose the right type of holly and take good care of it.
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