Hollies are important to bees. There are hundreds of species of Hollies around the world and while we tend to think of them in terms of winter greenery, Bees think of them as a great source of pollen and nectar.
Hollies are very diverse in form. Some are evergreen and others are deciduous. They can grow upright or be low and spreading. They have been adapted to our landscaping needs and fill that bill well by being trouble free and providing color and form to fill many different requirements.
Hollies are tough enough to grow in difficult environments and most are slow growing and need little in regards to maintenance.
Hollies have an interesting sex life for a plant. Male and female flowers are born on separate plants. Their tiny flowers are not showy but are very attractive to bees and other pollinators who work them with relish. The female flowers are filled with nectar and the male flowers release a high quality pollen, both of which are needed to keep a bee colony happy and healthy. In order to have the cheerful red berries on your hollies each winter, you must have a male holly somewhere nearby. The male will just be a plain green through the winter but, you only need one for every ten or so females to have an abundance of red berries. Some of the deciduous varieties have been selected for their heavy crops of red berries held through the winter on bare twigs. A striking show against a snowy background.
Where there are enough trees together, bees will produce nearly pure holly honey. In the southeastern states there is a deciduous Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, that blooms in such numbers that beekeepers can draw off nearly pure yaupon honey. It is sold by the unappetizing name of Gallberry honey. Gallberry being the local name for Yaupon Holly. In spite of its name, it is a delicious honey, distinct in flavor, a real gift from the holly tree.
Besides bees, birds love the berries and find shelter for their nests in the thick branches and thorny leaves.
If you are planning a pollinator friendly landscape, don’t forget the hollies. Their bold green forms and winter interest can frame and structure a beautiful insect and bird friendly garden