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Georgia Department of Agriculture

Hollies from near and far brighten Georgia’s winter landscape

Arty's Garden
Hollies from near and far brighten Georgia's winter landscape


Savannah hollies and Southern magnolias flank the Lion of Atlanta monument at historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.

Because English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is the only species of holly native to the British Isles, it is easy to see why people there valued it so. Legends developed around this tree that held its leaves while the oaks and beeches went bare. These legends, along with its beauty and unique status, made it a vital part of ancient yuletide celebrations.

Holly remains part of our celebrations today, and we are fortunate to have numerous species native to Georgia as well as hollies from other parts of the world to brighten our landscapes, homes and churches during the Christmas season.

Among our native species are American holly (Ilex opaca), yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), smooth winterberry (Ilex laevigata), possumhaw (Ilex decidua), inkberry or gallberry (Ilex glabra), large gallberry (Ilex coriacea), dahoon (Ilex cassine) and sarvis holly (Ilex amelanchier). Of these, American holly may be the most well-known. It is our most "traditional" native holly from a Christmas point of view with its evergreen, prickly leaves and red berries. In Georgia landscapes, yaupon is the most widely planted native holly. It is beloved for its translucent red berries and lustrous, dark green foliage. It has weeping, fastigiate and dwarf forms. 'Savannah' is a hybrid between dahoon and American holly. There are also hybrids between our native winterberry and the Japanese winterberry (Ilex serrata).

Numerous non-native hollies also thrive in Georgia and are valuable for landscaping and decorating. Among them are Japanese holly (Ilex crenata), Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta), lusterleaf holly (Ilex latifolia), longstalk holly (Ilex pedunculosa) and numerous hybrids such as 'Nellie R. Stevens', a cross between English holly and Chinese holly. The popular 'Burford' is a form of Chinese holly with single-prickle leaves that was discovered in Atlanta's Westview Cemetery around 1900.

A visit to a public garden or arboretum in the winter can really make you appreciate the value of hollies in the Georgia landscape. During a recent visit to Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery (, I saw excellent examples of numerous hollies including ‘Burford’, ‘Savannah’, Japanese, Chinese, American, winterberry and gallberry.

While most hollies are evergreen, some are deciduous. All are worth considering for landscaping (although sarvis holly is not commonly available), and all are suitable for Christmas decorating. Although hollies normally have either red or black berries, there are varieties of almost every species with yellow or orange berries.

Hollies are different from most flowering plants in that they have male and female flowers, and the flowers are on separate plants. Berries are borne on female plants after they have been pollinated with pollen from a male holly plant. A few varieties of hollies are self-fruitful. Another interesting thing about hollies is that they can be pollinated by the pollen from an entirely different species of holly. A horticulturist at a nursery or garden center will help explain the pollination needs of your particular holly.

Happy hollydays!

                                                                                                                                     --  Arty G. Schronce
                                                                                                                                         December 1, 2014

Arty Schronce is the Department's horticulture expert. He is a lifelong gardener who sings "The Holly and the Ivy," 'Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," "What Sweeter Music," "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree," "The Cherry Tree Carol" and other horticultural carols during the Christmas season.

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