This has been a really good year for berries with the result that the hollies along Holly Walk are looking very festive.
This has been a really good year for berries. Last month I highlighted some of the Sorbus varieties with their interesting range of berry colours.
The hollies along Holly Walk are also looking festive and some trees about 10 m tall are festooned with berries. The holly is in the genus Ilex and has the advantage of having many evergreen species and hybrids with lots of different leaf forms, as shown in the various photos below.
Ilex is a very large genus of trees and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous. There are around 400 species from around the globe, from both temperate and tropical regions. At Kew we have more than 750 individual hollies, including 43 different species and hybrids. Some of the best of these are to be found growing along Holly Walk, and the oldest dates back to 1840.
The common holly, Ilex aquifolium, is a great native plant, providing nectar for insects as well as nest sites and winter food for birds. But horticulturally it has produced many cultivars and is one of the parents of Ilex x altaclerensis, a large tree with large leaves, flowers and berries. The other parent of this hybrid is Ilex perado. This cross has also produced many popular hybrids. Below are both of the parents:
The common holy (Ilex aquifolium)
Ilex perado from Madeira
The cross between I. aquifolium and I. perado is thought to have been made sometime around the early eighteen hundreds. We have 23 different cultivars of this hybrid, with some fine tall specimens.
Ilex x altaclerensis 'Camelliifolia'
Ilex x altaclerensis 'Camelliifolia' has generally spineless, glossy leaves with large berries and is a popular hybrid. It grows into a large tree.
Ilex altaclerensis 'Golden King'
Ilex altaclerensis 'Golden King' is one of the finest variegated hollies, possessing large, golden-edged leaves with dark red berries. It originally came from a sport in 1884 from a cultivar called 'Hendersonii', in a famous Scottish nursery, of the Lawson Company.
Ilex aquifolium 'Silver Milkmaid'
Ilex aquifolium 'Silver Milkmaid', with its very wavy leaf margins, will brighten up even the dullest of winter days. This is an old cultivar, originally called 'Argentea Medio-Picta'.
Ilex aquifolium 'Frutu Luteo'
Ilex aquifolium 'Frutu Luteo' is a cultivar with yellow berries, which really stand out against the green foliage and the more common red berries of other hollies.
Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox Argentea'
Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox Argentea'. The silver hedgehog holly, with its curious bands of spines on the leaf surface, is a male form and so does not produce berries, but makes up for that with its purple stems and attractive variegated leaves. There is also a green form called 'Ferox'.
Many of the holly species are very different from the common British idea of a holly, with their spikey, spiny leaves. There are actually deciduous hollies!
Himalayan holly (Ilex dipyrena)
The Himalayan holly (Ilex dipyrena) is a majestic tree. Kew's specimen is over 10 m tall. Although this species rarely produces berries, it is still a stunning tree to look at. This specimen was already over 5 m tall in 1900.
As with many hollies including the common holly, the juvenile leaves of the Himalayan holly start off very spiny when the plant is young, but as the tree grows taller they become less so and eventually become spineless (entire). Spiny juvenile leaves are thought to be a defence against herbivores while the tree is young, that are not needed in later life. Some other trees do this as well i.e Quecus ilex, a Mediterranean oak with leaves that resemble those of a holly when young, but which become entire as the tree matures.
Ilex fargesii has long slender leaves which again look very un-holly like. Introduced in 1911 it will eventually make a large shrubby plant or small tree up to 5 m tall.
Finally two deciduous hollies: Ilex decidua and Ilex verticillata:
Ilex decidua was a very early introduction to the UK, from SE USA in 1760. The orange to scarlet berries often persist until the new leaves come out the following year, around May.
Ilex verticillata, the Winterberry, from E North America, has the added bonus of autumn colour. The yellow autumn leaves fall to further reveal the bright red berries. It was introduced even earlier, in 1736.
Both of these species have cultivars with yellow berries and with more abundant berries.
The joy of hollies
Hollies really are a very versatile plant, growing in almost all conditions of sun and shade, and on most soils. And they don't have to be like ours in Kew at over 10 m tall. They can fit into most gardens, with small, medium, dwarf and weeping varieties looking cheery throughout the winter months, with or without berries. They attract birds into the garden to feed on and nest in them, and the larvae of the small holly blue butterfly feed on all parts of the plant and the adults are often seen flying around the hollies later in the spring.
Though you will need both male and female plants to get the berries... !
- Tony -
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