Berries are hit and miss

Again, there are few berries on the tall, seedling American holly (Ilex opaca, below) in the rear garden that can positively be identified as female. There are handfuls of the native American hollies in and near the garden, with many smaller seedling hollies at the edges, and others deeper into the forest that borders it. None have a single berry, perhaps due to their young age, so these cannot be identified as male or female. Where the parent plants are, and particularly females with berries (and thus seeds) I’ve no clue, but clearly birds carry the seeds in, so the parents could be a distance away.

The Koehne holly (Ilex koehneana, above) is typically most dependable of the garden’s hollies for berries, but the crop this autumn is sparser than usual, I suspect a result of cold temperatures that discouraged pollinators while the holly was flowering in early spring. Other hollies are heavily berried, and as usual, branches of nandinas (Nandina domestica, below) are arched under the weight of clumps of berries.

Inevitably, whenever writing about nandinas, there are concerned comments about its designation as invasive, and the toxicity of its berries. There are stories, true I’m certain, that Cedar waxwings have perished eating nandina berries, but I rarely see a bird give the berries even a glance. In late winter, upon the return of robins, I watch as they sample a berry or two, but without any apparent negative effect. As for invasiveness, without birds distributing the seeds, the only seedlings are ones from seeds that have fallen and rolled a few feet away. No doubt, there are areas where nandinas have earned this recognition, but not that I’ve seen, and I’m ever watchful for invasives from any source in local woodlands.

The ‘Winterberry’ hollies (Ilex verticillata, above) are chock full of berries again, a minor triumph that I finally did something about the loss of the male pollinator several years ago. The number of berries declined to almost nothing until a male ‘Apollo’ was planted, and one small shrub has made this huge difference for two very large females. As I whined for several years, ‘Winterberry’ hollies are barely ornamental, and to my thinking not worthy of having around if not for berries. The abundance of berries today is all the evidence necessary to justify their inclusion in the garden. But, a male holly is required, and not to depend, as I sometimes argued until proven incorrect, that there must plentiful pollinators in the neighborhood.

Robin holly is dependable for berries, but this year’s crop is heavier than usual.
The crop of berries on Centennial Girl is lighter this year.
Berries on Mary Nell holly are late to ripen to red.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. bittster says:

    Nice to see you growing such a variety of hollies. It’s hard to find anything other than ‘Blue Girl’ or ‘Blue Boy’ around here, and the American hollies can be so beautiful in the garden.

  2. tonytomeo says:

    Winter berries are unfortunately not regarded here like they are in colder of snowy climates. There are too many other plants that will bloom right through winter. Firethorn and some of the cotoneasters are popular with those from the East. I think that cotoneaster is popular as a Californian substitute for firethorn. Hollies are uncommon here, and for the longest time, all the English hollies were female! They happen to be one of my all time favorite foliar plants, but without the berries. Males used to be planted near female hedges in the landscapes of the grand old homes. They were sometimes off in the background, and perhaps grew into trees, but they got the job done. No one did that for the longest time. Now, I have noticed that a few hollies are planted with a male and a female in the same pot. That works nicely if only ‘one’ shrub is desired, but would probably make for a patchy hedge. I have not seen a male branch grafted onto a female plant since I was a little kid.

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