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Christmas Holly

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This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticulturist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office All Rights Reserved

Among the most popular broad-leafed shrubs are the holly (Ilex spp.) shrubs. There are more than 400 species of holly and most prefer moist conditions, abundant organic matter and acidic soil. A few will grow here in Utah if you select a good, protected location.

Holly shrubs are diecious meaning that the some plants produce only male flowers and others produce only female flowers. Only female plants produce berries, but both sexes must be present to produce fruit. One male plant can pollinate six to eight female plants.

The hybrid Meserve hollies (Ilex x meserveaea) are among the most cold hardy hollies. The most common include 'Blue Girl,' 'Blue Maid,' 'Blue Princess' and Blue Prince’. Other Meserve hybrids, such as 'China Boy' and 'China Girl,' are considered to have better cold hardiness and heat tolerance than the Blue series.

The Blue Hollies are so named because the dark green foliage has a blue overcast. The bark on young twigs is purplish. Many male and female cultivars are available and both must be grown in order to obtain fruit production on the females. Although the plants are fairly hardy, foliage can still be injured during severe winters in northern areas.


'Blue Boy' (Plant Patent 2435) - A male form suitable for use as a pollinator.

'Blue Girl' (Plant Patent 2434) - A 15-foot tall female plant.

Blue Prince(R) (Plant Patent 3517) - A compact, pyramidal growth habit that reaches a height and spread of about 12 feet. Male.

Blue Princess(R) (Plant Patent 3675) - Female with a broad upright habit and a 12 foot height and spread. Abundant red fruit.

Ebony Magic TM - A pyramidal plant reaching a height of 15 feet and a spread of 8 feet. The branches have a bluish-black coloration. The fruits are orange-red.

'Mesan' (Blue Stallion(R))(Plant Patent 4804) - A very vigorous male cultivar reaching a height of 16 feet and a 12 foot spread.

'Mesdob' (China Boy(R))(Plant Patent 4803) - A vigorous, 10-foot, dense male cultivar.

'Mesgolg' (Golden Girl(R))(Plant Patent 7652) - A female cultivar producing yellow fruit and forming a broad pyramid 12 to 15 feet tall.

'Mesid' (Blue Maid(R))(Plant Patent 4685) - A female cultivar that forms a broad pyramid and reaches a height of about 12 feet. Heavy production of large red berries.

'Mesog' (China Girl(R))(Plant Patent 4878) - A female cultivar with a rounded form and abundant red fruit.

'Mondo' (Little Rascal TM) - A dwarf reaching a height and spread of 5 feet. The foliage becomes purplish in cold weather.

The shiny green leaves and the showy red berries of the holly plants are festive additions to the Christmas season. While the German's decorated tall green fir trees with colored paper, fruits and sweets, Victorian England hung bows of holly, ivy, and mistletoe on their walls and mantles.

"Fresh green holly," not balsam fir or Scotch pine is the "wintry emblem" in Charles' Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" Londoner's decked their shops, homes, and churches with holly in Dickens' time and Henry Mayhew, a Victorian merchant, estimated London merchants sold 250,000 bushels of holly during the1851 Christmas season.

Many ancient Europeans perceived holly as a protective plant that had medicinal curative powers. Later, its red berries and spring leaves represented the crucifixion as symbols of Christ's suffering. In an old English carol, "The Holly and the Ivy”, the tiny white holly flowers represent Mary and the red berries represent Christ's blood.

German legends ascribe that if they brought smooth, thornless holly indoors for Christmas, the wife would rule the household in the coming year. The husband would rule if the leaves were thorny. Checking with local retailers, I found that they did not segregate theirs on this basis. I vowed to myself to select holly for my arrangements much more carefully.

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