Here’s another fascinating question from Jean, a highly observant and faithful reader:
Been paying attention to the possumhaw that grows along a fence row on the bypass in town. I have noticed that there are 3 distinct colors of plants. There is one that is a true red, one that is a brighter red, and one that borders on orange. It seems the orange-red one is loaded with berries and looks more weeping — possibly from the heavy load of berries. I figured most of them would be the same and come from the same plants. I guess I’m wrong. Good grief!
Apparently, these plants appreciate a moist soil..and this one place is the only place I have ever seen them growing in town. They are spaced all along this stretch of road.
I cannot decide which of these plants are the prettiest…the orange really stands out..but then there is the dark red which is beautiful too.
Any Grumpy wisdom? Jean
“Any Grumpy wisdom?” I am shocked — nay, deeply offended — that you would even cast the slightest bit of doubt upon the Grump’s knowledge of any subject horticultural by terminating your comment with a question mark. I should refuse to answer out of sheer indignation. However, because I am a merciful and forgiving Grump, I will renounce my right to vengeance and reply most thoughtfully.
Seedlings of possumhaw (Ilex decidua), a native deciduous holly, exhibit great genetic variability in their characteristics, including growth habit and berry color. This is what you’re seeing along the fence row. Gardeners and nurserymen who like a particular seedling end up propagating it asexually and putting it into the nursery trade. This is how we wind up with different superior selections from which to choose. For example, ‘Warren’s Red,’ the most popular selection, has long-lasting, bright red berries. The berries of ‘Council Fire’ are orange, while those of ‘Byer’s Golden’ are yellow. ‘Red Cascade’ has red berries and a weeping form.
Only female plants produce berries, after pollination by a male. Male American holly (Ilex opaca) supposedly will pollinate a female possumhaw, but a male possumhaw is a surer bet. Plant one male in the background somewhere and it will service all females in the vicinity. (Sounds like a dream job to me.) Nurseries usually sell both female and male plants.
Seeds take a long time to germinate and seedlings may look nothing like their parents. If a particular possumhaw along the fence row appeals to you, you can try to root a cutting taken in June and July. Dip the cut end in rooting powder before sticking it into moist potting soil. Rooting usually takes 6-8 weeks.
I hope I have renewed your confidence in His Grumpiness.
(For more info about possumhaw and its lookalike, winterberry, see “Have A Holly, Jolly Christmas.”)