The Best Ilex Plant Varieties

Top Performing Holly Tree Types

The most garden worthy Ilex plant types to grow. Easy growing holly trees that will beautify your landscape year round. American holly tree, Christmas holly, several Ilex verticillata cultivars and more.


Sky Pencil Holly
from: Fast Growing Trees Nursery

Definition of ilex:

Ilex is a Greek word meaning (roughly) oak.

Holly trees were so named in reference to their, sometimes, oak-shaped leaves.

The hollies are a group of handsome, broad-leaved evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs cultivated for their, sometimes shiny, bright to dark green leaves and brightly colored, ornamental berries.

These are the plants of Christmas lore.  Their festive winter coloring has become symbolic of the Holiday season and all its celebrations.

The thousands of Ilex plant cultivars differ mainly in the shape, size, and shade of their foliage and in the color and number of their fruit.  A few of the most landscape worthy varieties are listed here.

Nellie Stevens Holly
from: Fast Growing Trees Nursery

American Holly
from: Fast Growing Trees Nursery

Soft Touch Ilex Plant
from: Fast Growing Trees Nursery

Landscape Tip:

Female hollies will sometimes fruit on their own but put on a much better winter display when grown in close proximity to a suitable male pollinator.

The American holly tree (Ilex opaca) is native to the Eastern and south-central United States.  It is the species of choice for U.S. gardeners wishing to grow native plants.  Popular across the country because of its adaptability to a wide variety of climates, its densely branched pyramidal growth habit makes it all the more desirable.

The American holly's  2"-4" matte green leaves feature greenish-yellow reverses and spiny edges and tips.  Both male and female plants produce tiny greenish-white blossoms in spring, but only the female displays bright red, orange, or yellow (depending on cultivar) fruit in the fall and winter.

Left to grow unpruned, the stately I. opaca will eventually reach a height of 40-60 feet.  Performs well in zones 5-9.

'Nellie R. Stevens' is a named cultivar of the English holly (Ilex aquifolium).  The leaves of this species are darker and glossier than those of its American cousin while displaying the same spiny margins and tips.  Its affection for humid climates, has made it a favorite in the Southern U.S.

'Nellie' has a male clone 'Edward J. Stevens' which may be used to pollinate her, but, in 'Edward's' absense, she will press any nearby male into service.

'Nellie Stevens' can be expected to grow to a moderate height of 15-25 feet when planted in zones 6-9.

Holly - Blue Prince
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Holly - Blue Princess
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Holly - Sky Pointer
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Growing Tips:

Install Ilex plants in early spring or fall.  Part day sun is the best exposure. 

Well-drained, acid soil is a must for these trees.

Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Princess' is an evergreen holly growing to just 15 feet.  Purple stems and glaucous foliage set her apart from the other hollies on our list.  Her scarlet berries are sure to delight the neighborhood birds.  'Blue Prince' is her pollinator.

The diminutive 'Blue Prince' grows to a height of just 8 feet.  But this does not stop him being a hit with the ladies.  One plant of 'Blue Prince' is quite capable of pollinating several female hollies.

His blue-green leaves and tiny white spring flowers make him worthy of a place on this list of the best Ilex plant varieties aside from his role as holly garden rooster.

A hedge of 'Blue Prince' hollies forms a beautiful backdrop for perennial plants.

Both members of this royal family perform best in zones 5-9.

 Sky Pointer (Ilex crenata 'Farrowone') is a columnar dwarf stretching to 5 feet with a spread of less than 2.

The similar 'Sky Pencil' (Ilex crenata, top of page) will achieve twice Sky Pointer's height while keeping to its 2 foot width.  Your choice is simple.  Plant the cultivar that grows to the height your landscape plans require.

Neither plant needs pruning to hold its stiffly upright shape.  Both are pollution tolerant and give their best showing in zones 5-9.

Holly - Castle Spire
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Holly - Castle Wall
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Holly - Jim Dandy
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Boggy Soil Tip:

If your soil tends to hold water, plant 'Castle Wall' or 'Jim Dandy' as they will tolerate damp soil better than most other holly tree types.

'Castle Spire' is a 10 foot tall by 3 feet slender female pyramidal evergreen.  Her leaves are not oak-shaped but serrated ovals.  Hunter green leaves, deep red fruit and branches which clothe the trunk all the way to the ground make this Ilex plant a handsome ornament for formal landscapes.

The smaller male 'Castle Wall' grows to 5 feet and may be used to pollinate 'Castle Spire' or planted as a hedge in zones 5-9.

Ilex verticillata 'Jim Dandy' is valued for its exceptional hardiness and compact growth to 5 or 6 feet.  This plant's drought tolerance is an added bonus. 'Jimmy D' can also serve as a pollinator for your female holly trees.

Grows best in zones 4-8.

Holly trees are deer resistant plants.

Related Pages:

Spring Flowering Trees

White Flowering Shrubs

Best Shrubs for Hedges

The Best Landscape Trees

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