The holly genus, Ilex, offers a variety of plants from which to choose.

The holly genus, Ilex, offers a variety of plants from which to choose.

There are about 700 species worldwide, some horticulturists estimate. And there is a great number of cultivated varieties. 

Not all hollies have spiny leaves. Many of the Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata) have spineless leaves. They are often mistaken for boxwoods with their small, shiny leaves. But boxwoods (Buxus) leaves are attached directly opposite one another on the stem, while holly leaves have an alternate leaf arrangement along the stem.

Holly plants range from 2 to more than 60 feet tall. Some dwarf types are great choices for foundation plantings. These include Helleri holly, Carissa holly, Dwarf yaupon holly and Stokes dwarf, thought to be the same cultivar as Shilling dwarf.

Don’t let the word dwarf fool you. Many hollies in this category may reach 3 to 5 feet tall. And Dwarf Burford may grow 8 feet or taller.

Some “tree form” hollies can reach heights approaching 60 feet. These can stand alone as specimen plants or may provide a tall hedge. A few hollies that form large shrubs or small trees include many of the American holly cultivars such as Miss Helen, Hedgeholly and Savannah.

Hollies respond well to pruning if needed, but it’s best to know the mature height before planting to avoid future problems of overgrown plants and unnecessary pruning.

Other tree-form holly hybrids develop by crossing two or more plant species within a given genus. A few include Foster, East Palatka, Nellie R. Stevens and Mary Nell.

Hollies with multicolored leaves include variegated English holly. And there are a few hollies that shed annually such as Ambiguous winterberry and Possumhaw holly. There are hollies that produce bright red berries. But berry color varies from red, orange and yellow to even black or white, depending on variety.

Only female plants produce berries. Hollies are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are located on separate plants. Male flowers produce pollen required, in most cases, to pollinate female flowers.

Many dwarf types of holly don’t produce berries because they come from male plants. To ensure that your plants produce berries, ask for female plants when purchasing. If the plant already has berries on it, you know it is a female.

You should consider other characteristics when selecting hollies. There are weeping forms available such as the weeping yaupon holly. There are those that have a very narrow, upright habit such as the cultivar ‘Will Fleming.’

Hollies are not foolproof. They may attract pests and must be planted and cared for properly.

However, for the most part, this group of plants has much to offer. Once established, they require little care and have very good drought tolerance.

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Larry Williams is an agent at the Okaloosa County Extension office in Crestview.