In December, we have a lot of great plants that are used for holiday decorations. We have the Christmas tree, wreaths, poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly. Holly is a fun plant we can grow in our landscapes for winter interest from the berries and evergreen foliage.
Holly, Ilex x meserveae, is a broadleaf evergreen also called meserve holly that we grow in Nebraska. It is not the true Christmas holly, that is Ilex aquifolium or English Holly which is not winter hardy in Nebraska. Meserve holly grows up to 10-12 feet tall and wide. The glossy green, leathery leaves are 1-2.5 inches long and ¾-1.25 inches wide. They have 4-8 spines on each side of the leaves that are arranged alternately on the stem. Meserve holly has white flowers in May that are not showy. These flowers lead to ¼ inch round red berries on the female plants that will persist into winter.
Meserve holly is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are found on separate plants. To get berries from your holly plants, you have to plant both a male plant for pollination and a female for fruit production. The fruits will only be present on the female plants. In the meserve holly plants, they will be given boy and girl names. Some common varieties include ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’, ‘Blue Boy’ and ‘Blue Girl’, ‘Blue Angel’, and ‘Blue Stallion’. If you do not want to have to worry about planting both male and female plants in close proximity, there is one cultivar that is self-fruitful, ‘Berry-Magic Kids’ but this cultivar is a dwarf cultivar that only grows to about four feet tall.
Meserve holly is best grown in part shade with well-drained soil and consistent moisture. They are best grown on the north, northwest, or northeast side of the house where they won’t get too hot or have strong sunlight in the summer months. On the other side of that, holly should be placed in locations that are more protected from strong winds and strong sunlight in the winter months which can cause winter desiccation. If winter desiccation is a problem, an anti-desiccant can be sprayed on the plants to help alleviate the problem. They can be planted as a specimen plant or in groups throughout the landscape. They are also often used along the foundation of homes.
Holly has been used in Christmas decorations for generations, according to the University of Vermont Extension. The Romans used holly to decorate their halls because it was believed to have protective powers. They used it on their doors to chase away evil spirts or catch them with the prickly leaves. Eventually Christians began to use holly in their Christmas decorations because the prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore and the red berries represented the blood he shed. Whether you use it to represent Jesus or to ward off evil spirits, either way, Holly is a beautiful plant to use for the Christmas holiday. I especially like it with the glossy green leaves in contrast to the red berries which are the two traditional colors of the holiday season.
Meserve holly is a great plant for the winter months. It may not be the traditional holly that we use in holiday decorations, but it is still beautiful and evergreen. The red berries will persist into the winter months, giving our otherwise drab landscape a blast of color. These berries are attractive to birds and the flowers will help bees for pollination. The next time you are looking for a plant with winter interest and good holiday color, consider meserve holly.