5 Favorite Varieties of Holly

The Ilex genus that includes hollies is a very broad one, ranging from cultivars like 'Helleri' that function as ground covers, to Ilex opaca, which can grow as high as 50 feet. Nellie Stevens is a popular tree-form type in the American Southeast, though in most parts of the country, it is the shrub forms that are more popular.

Holly shrubs and trees are truly iconic plants. Since most are evergreen and many have colorful berries, they are a boon to the snowy landscape, making them symbolic of winter and the Christmas season.

Holly shrubs can be used hedges, foundation plantings, border screens, or even as specimen plants or rain garden plants. Here are 5 common types of holly shrubs for your landscape.

Caution

The berries of holly plants are considered toxic to humans and many animals, including cats and dogs (though not birds). The berries and leaves contain a variety of acids and tannins that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Consumption of the attractive berries is especially problematic since as few as 20 berries are enough to be fatal to a small child.

  • 01 of 05

    'Blue Princess' Holly (lIex x meserveae 'Blue Princess')

    Holly sprinkled with snowflakes.

     Ed Reschke / Photolibrary / Getty Images

    'Blue Princess' is not so much blue, as a dark green with a bluish cast. The female clone of lIex x meserveae is a 3- to 12-foot shrub with the familiar glossy, toothed leaves common to most hollies. It has red berries that make for winter interest, provided you can keep the wild birds from eating them. Along with the plants' attractive foliage, these red berries make the plant sufficiently pleasing to the eye to warrant using it as a specimen plant. To ensure berry production, you will want to provide a 'Blue Prince' as a pollinator.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-7
    • Color Varieties: Dark green foliage with bluish overtones; red berries
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic
  • 02 of 05

    'Hetz' Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata 'Hetzii')

    Illex Crenata

     Dalgial / Wikimedia Commons / CC-SA 3.0

    'Hetzii' is a shrubby cultivar of the Ilex crenata species, commonly called Japanese holly. This particular cultivar grows only 3 to 6 feet tall, with tiny leaves that make it resemble a boxwood when viewed from a distance. Unlike 'Blue Princess', this bush bears black-colored berries. But as with all types of Ilex, you need a male and a female if you want the pleasure of a berry crop, since these are dioecious plants in which each specimen has either male or female flowers.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5-8
    • Color Varieties: Deep green, glossy leaves; blackish berries
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic
  • 03 of 05

    'Sky Pencil' Holly (Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil')

    Ilex crenata sky pencil bush

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Like the 'Hetz' cultivar, 'Sky Pencil' is an Ilex crenata (Japanese holly). Also, like 'Hetz', it bears tiny leaves and black-colored berries. But the similarities end there. The cultivar name of this plant gives a good indication of its signature feature—this is a bush that is extremely narrow relative to its height. It can grow 10 feet high, with a spread of only 2 to 3 feet.

    This feature makes 'Sky Pencil' popular in landscaping around front entries; such columnar plants effectively frame an entrance. Alternatively, another use for this holly shrub in foundation plantings is at the corners of a house (for a "bookend" effect).

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6-8
    • Color Varieties: Dark green foliage; blackish berries
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic
  • 04 of 05

    Inkberry (Ilex glabra)

    Inkberry holly

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    This is another black-berried holly shrub, thus its common name, inkberry. As a trade-off for being rather plain-looking, inkberry is tolerant of a wide variety of challenging conditions, ranging from too much shade to too much moisture in the soil. This broad tolerance gives you versatility—which, in turn, gives you plenty of reason to grow it if your landscape is plagued by such challenging conditions.

    This species has an upright, rounded form, growing to as much as 8 feet tall. The leaves have the familiar glossy dark green color, but without the sharp teeth found on most hollies. It is known for having very good performance in damp, wet locations. It suckers rather profusely, but cultivars such as 'Shamrock' are better behaved in this regard.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-9
    • Color Varieties: Dark green foliage; small black berries
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic; tolerates wet soils
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

    Winterberry growing with many red berries

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    When a shrub in the landscape drops its leaves, it is seldom a cause for celebration. Generally, we tolerate a plant's being deciduous, but we prefer it when it is clothed in foliage. Winterberry holly, however, is an exception to the rule. This deciduous form of holly is grown almost exclusively for its display of red berries. Winterberry is at its prettiest after it has lost its leaves.

    This holly grows 3 to 12 feet tall, with the dark-green toothed leaves common to hollies. This species has an even greater tendency to sucker and spread than most hollies. It has a variety of landscape uses but is most often massed or used to attract birds. It is also a common shrub to use in rain gardens.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3-9
    • Color Varieties: Dark green glossy leaves; profuse bright red berries
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic; good tolerance for poorly drained soils