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The American Holly was a welcome sight to the first colonists who landed on the wild shores of North America. It reminded them of the English Holly they had left behind. The American Holly was a bigger tree and a different shade of green but still a welcoming green color on a snow covered winters landscape.
Hollies have always conjured mysterious ideas, a holly planted near a house might protect it from witchcraft or even protect from lightening. The broad green leaves that stay through the winter interspersed with bright red berries were more often seen as a cheerful sight during the drab rainy and snowy winter months. So cheerful if fact that the branches were gathered and used as wreaths during the Christmas season.
Over the years, American Hollies have been selected for the best of their characteristics, dense green foliage, disease resistance, heavy berry set, distinctive berry color and overall tree shape.
Since we now mostly propagate the trees from cuttings, we can choose from the best and be relatively sure of a good outcome.
Our Holly Trees prefer a moist loamy acidic soil with some protection from winter winds especially in northern areas. Trees growing in alkaline soils will yellow, drop leaves and overall appear less than thrifty. Dry clay will not be the best for our hollies either nor do they do well in saturated soils. Low lands that drain are fine.
American Hollies are hardy to zone 5 but will need a sheltered location in winter. The trees look better and make more flowers in full sun. Mature trees can reach 65′ tall and 30′ wide but this takes many years. There is a large mature tree in East Nashville that is over 2′ in diameter and 60+’ tall. It has been there since the late 1800’s
Holly flowers are small and unimpressive unless you are a honeybee. Bees of all types find holly flowers highly attractive. The bloom period only lasts 7 to 10 days but the volume of flowers makes it a productive few days. Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. Male trees only produce pollen and no nectar but are necessary to allow the females to have the red berries in winter. The flower picture is of male flowers that are borne in clusters. The female flowers are more spread out on the branches. One male tree can pollinate up to 3 female trees.
Trees have been selected that have red, orange or yellow berries. The trees themselves are generally pyramidal in shape with some varieties more upright than others. There are a couple of varieties that are dwarfs. They tend to grow as a ground cover not over 3′ tall.
American Hollies being a native tree are susceptible to a number of insects and diseases. Most of these pests are purely cosmetic. Leaf miners can leave white trails as they eat the inside of the leaf. A variety of fungal diseases can leave a variety of different spots on the leaves. If you are bothered by these issues, there are sprays that can manage them. The easiest way to control these diseases is to plant resistant varieties. We have selected the best from a large planting of named varieties the ones that were the healthiest with good winter color and a heavy berry set.
The wood of the Holly Tree has been prized for many generations. At its best it is snow white with almost invisible grain. The wood is dense and hard and can be dyed to almost any color. It has long been used as inlay for stringing and dyed for marquetry. When dyed black, it is an excellent substitute for Ebony