While we string twinkling lights and wrap presents for loved ones, Mother Nature provides holiday cheer of her own. During the winter months, some of the most attractive ornamental and decorative plants in our Mississippi gardens and landscapes are hollies: Yaupon, Savannah and Nellie R. Stevens.
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Yaupon holly (botanically known as Ilex vomitoria) is our most prevalent and noticeable native holly. Driving most highways, you can see it popping out of the edges of woodlands showing off its very distinctive red berries. The berries are bright, translucent and candy-apple red, imparting a gemlike appearance that sparkles in any landscape. The native Yaupon holly is actually a small tree that can grow up to 20 feet. Another variety, weeping yaupon, can grow up to 12 feet high with branches that have a weeping cascading growth habit.
Savannah holly (botanically known as Ilex x attenuata) is a superb evergreen plant widely grown across the state. Savannah holly is a hybrid of two of our less common native hollies, American holly and Dahoon holly. Savannah holly puts forth heavy berry production from November through March, and it’s a real showstopper. The tight clusters of fluorescent quarter-inch red berries form toward the ends of the branches. Fun fact: The plentiful berries are a favorite winter delicacy of birds.
Nellie R. Stevens holly (botanically known as Ilex x Nellie R. Stevens) is a wintertime favorite. The leaves are a dark glossy green year-round, and the plant itself has a nice triangular growing habit. The real attraction of this holly is the berry production of literally thousands upon thousands of brightly colored red berries. Nellie R. Stevens has the potential to be a big plant, growing up to 20 feet high by 20 feet wide. The best practice would be to plant it in a space that will accept the growth potential and prune to maintain its shape.
Red holly berries and leaves are perfect for holiday decoration in wreaths, dry arrangements and table swags. If ingested by children or pets, holly berries can cause some gastrointestinal discomfort – but like the holiday poinsettia, they’re not as toxic as widely believed. There’s no need to banish that bough of holly from your holiday decorating. So go on and deck your halls with boughs of holly!
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