Taxonomy and Botany of 'Nellie R. Stevens' Holly
Plant taxonomy classifies this plant as Ilex x 'Nellie R. Stevens.' Ilex is the genus name for holly. The part of the name in single quotation marks is, as always, the particular cultivar. The plant is sometimes referred to informally without the middle initial, "R."
'Nellie R. Stevens' holly falls into the latter category. It is classified as a broadleaf evergreen.
Characteristics of the Plant
A fast grower, 'Nellie R. Stevens' holly shrub typically reaches a height of about 30 feet, spreads out about 15 feet at its base, and has a pyramidal shape (that is, it is narrower at the top). In fact, it bears a classic Christmas-tree shape.This holly bears spiny, dark green leaves and round red berries.
In his description of this shrub, Michael Dirr calls it the "grande dame of landscape hollies in the Southeast: common, overused, but beautifully functional to a pragmatic fault" (Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, Page 377).
Plant Care Tips (Pruning), Uses in Landscaping
This bush maintains its pyramidal shape without much pruning and is usually not susceptible to pest damage, making it a low-maintenance plant. But if you wish for it to appear more tree-like, prune off the lower branches, so as to expose (and thereby accentuate) its trunk.
'Nellie R. Stevens' holly is most commonly used:
While this type of holly is especially popular in Southern states such as Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, it is, in fact, hardy all the way to zone 6. For the next zone north of that, plant the somewhat hardier Ilex opaca 'Mac's Prince,' which is suitable for zones 5-9.
'Mac's Prince' reaches a height of 15-30 feet, with a spread of 10-20 feet.
Nellie Stevens is a wonderful tree for winter interest, both indoors and outdoors. Branches may be pruned, so that the clippings can be brought in and used for holiday decorations. Or just enjoy its evergreen leaves and red berries in the winter landscape.
Before buying one, decide on its function in your yard. It is sold both in tree form (with a single leader) and bush form (with multiple stems at the base). When it is to be treated as a specimen tree, purchase the tree form: this will give you the option of removing the lower limbs so that a trunk shows. But 'Nellie R. Stevens' holly is also used en masse in tall hedges that serve as privacy screens, in which case the bush form is fine. If a tree form is to be used in a privacy screen, the lower limbs are usually retained.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements
'Nellie R. Stevens' holly can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 6-9.
Grow this plant in full sun to partial shade in a soil that is well-drained and slightly acidic.
Name Origin, Parentage
According to the Plantilus database, the shrub was named for Nellie Robinson Stevens, in whose garden the original hybridization (see below) occurred.
This is a female hybrid plant, a cross between the English holly and the Chinese holly. Hollies are generally dioecious plants, so you usually need both a male and female for fruit production. Strictly speaking, 'Nellie R. Stevens' holly is an exception to this rule, being what is called a partially "parthenocarpic" plant. This means that it is able to set some fruit without a male being present, although the fruit will be seedless. Such technicalities aside, it is still better to provide a male: doing so will produce more fruit. The male counterpart is Ilex x 'Edward J. Stevens.'