‘Winter Red’ Winterberry
No plant is more closely associated with the holidays than holly. But many people are sadly ignorant of the showiest winter hollies of all — the deciduous hollies. Let the Grump enlighten you.
Deciduous hollies differ from more familiar types, such as American holly (Ilex opaca), ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ holly (Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’), and yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), in that they lose their leaves for the winter. Down South, folks get upset by this, as they think any plant that loses its leaves looks dead. But trust me, it’s a good thing.
The leaves of evergreen hollies stay one color — green. Those of deciduous hollies turn bright yellow in fall at the same time as the berries turn red. It’s a spectacular combination.
Things get even better after the leaves drop. Clusters of sparkling red berries smother the naked stems. Naked has never look so good — on a plant anyway.
You’ll Love These Hollies
Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) is one of the two really showy deciduous hollies commonly found in gardens. The other is winterberry (Ilex verticillata). Many people can’t distinguish the two, but when you’re as knowledgeable as the Grump, it’s easy. First, possumhaw twigs are silvery-gray, while those of winterberry are dark brown to blackish. Possumhaw leaves are oval to oblong with rounded tips, while those of winterberry are lance-shaped and have pointed tips. Finally, possumhaw grows about twice as big, up to 25 feet tall.
Both species have separate male and female plants with only females displaying berries. Cross-pollination is necessary for fruiting. A female possumhaw, such as ‘Warren’s Red,’ can be pollinated by a male American holly or a male possumhaw, such as ‘Red Escort.’ A female winterberry, such as ‘Winter Red,’ can only be pollinated by a male winterberry, such as ‘Southern Gentleman.’ For both possumhaw and winterberry, one male will service about 6 females. Each time, it will cost him dinner and a movie.
Where to Buy
Many local garden centers carry deciduous hollies, but if you can’t find them, good mail-order sources include Fairweather Gardens (www.fairweathergardens.com) and Forest Farm (www.forestfarm.com). If you only want the berries for decorations, local nurseries and florists also sell winterberry branches covered with berries. You can make an incredibly bright and colorful winter arrangement by inserting these branches into a pot filled with soil or oasis. In a subsequent post, the very virile, manly Grump will get in touch with his sensitive side and show you some cool arrangements he actually helped to create.