Ilex aquifolium as houseplant

cliss(6)December 6, 2010

The standard stock of holiday plants at my local grocery store includes a form of holly I've never seen before. It's unlabeled, of course, but I believe it's Ilex aquifolium "Golden Queen" (or maybe "Aureo-Marginata"), and I've completely fallen in love with it. All my web research has only turned up care instructions for it as an outdoors plant, though. So, before I blow $20 on this (or go hunting for a cheaper one)... Does this plant work at all indoors? Or are the light/humidity/growth needs too much? (I live in an apartment, so summers outdoors aren't gonna happen.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Ilex aquifolium

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Cliss, Wow, that Holly is beautiful!
Unless your appartment is cool/cold in winter, an unobstructed South window, fresh air, and humidity, the Ilex will not make it.
They're grown as hedges in outdoor gardens, preferably zone 6.

Too bad it wasn't half the price, it'd be a challenge, but worth a try.
One major problem growing Ilex indoors is Spider Mites and Scale. Both mites and scale are contageous, so if you have plants, they'd need to be inspected at least once a week or more.

To get holly to flower, you'd need male and female flowers..2 separate Ilex.
Also, it's poisonous. So, if you have children/pets, it's an additional worry.

If not, it'd make a great ornamental..and worth a shot keeping indoors. But, Ilex isn't recommended indoors..Sorry. I don't blame you for falling in love, it's truly gorgeous. Toni

    Bookmark   December 6, 2010 at 7:35PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Forget it. It is not an indoor plant except in the most temporary of conditions....such as a centerpiece for your Christmas party. This plant needs to be outdoors all year round. Spend your $20.00 on something that has a chance. You'll just be lining the pockets of a lot of folks who are marketing this pretty plant to folks just like you. (Not that there is anything really wrong with that....but don't be taken in by the holiday hype.)

(Just to 'adjust' Toni's comments a don't need male and female plants in order to produce flowers. Each sex will quite happy cover itself with an abundance of very small white flowers in the late spring. It's the BERRY production that requires both sexes....the females to bear the fruit and the male to offer the pollen that will help produce the fruit.)

    Bookmark   December 6, 2010 at 10:18PM
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Yeah, that's about what I figured. I could probably manage an unobstructed South window with cool temperatures, once I move the Sansevierias out of my sunroom and turn off the radiator in there -- it'll drop down to 60ish pretty fast and stay there or cooler most of the winter. And fresh air probably won't be an issue, either ("insulated windows", ha! ;) ). Humidity, though... That's a clincher. Oh, well, it was a nice thought. (And yeah, if I ever spot one under $10, I might try anyway. But $20? Nope, too much.)

Thanks for the info!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2010 at 12:04AM
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Cliss, I think there's a very good chance that the plant you admired was not Ilex aquifolium, but its lookalike, Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Variegatus' (aka Osmanthus aquifolium) -- the common name of which is False Holly. I've regularly seen it offered for sale as a holiday plant. Sometimes when it appears during this time of the year it has small clusters of fake red berries wired (discreetly) to the branches.

'False Holly' Osmanthus actually does reasonably well as a house plant unless you keep your thermostat set really high (above 75 degrees). If you have a bright but cool (even drafty) area in your home, that's the place for this plant. Also, it's a plant that benefits from spending time outdoors in spring/summer/early fall.

I began growing False Holly indoors abt 10 yrs ago after reading an old article written by James Crockett (remember him?).

Here is a link that might be useful: Variegated False Holly

    Bookmark   December 7, 2010 at 9:18PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I see the variegated holly in retail outlets all over the place at this time of year; I'd be surprised it this plant was an Osmanthus, but surely could be.

cliss, if you are interested, look at the leaf arrangement along the stems. If the leaves are opposite each other, you have Osmanthus. If the leaves are growing in an alternate arrangement, it's a holly.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2010 at 10:36PM
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Interesting... I don't remember the arrangement of the leaves, but I do remember that the stems were very reddish in color; comparing the photos I can find on the web, that seems to point towards Ilex rather than Osmanthus. Still, I'll have to go back and look at the leaves -- and even if it's Ilex, I can try to hunt down an Osmanthus now! Thanks!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2010 at 11:56PM
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Rhizo, sorry about're right, berries. But, would one plant grow both sexes?

Cliss, if it's Osmanthus, grab it. It's beautiful. Still needs cooler temps, but not seasonal like Holly.
ORnamenental holiday plants, 'usually' have tags. Look for the Botanical name, not the first or common name on top of the tag.
And what store is selling this plant...........? lol. Toni

    Bookmark   December 8, 2010 at 5:14PM
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Unfortunately, these don't seem to have tags, or if they do the tag is hidden beneath the inevitable shiny wrapper around the pot. And they're at my local Treasure Island (a small Chicago-area chain). Normally I avoid buying from them, because they seem to have constant problems with spider mites, but this was too beautiful to ignore.

(I actually broke down and bought a Selaginella "Frosty Fern" from them last night... Figured I stand a chance if I immediately put it in a terrarium-type container. My consolation prize, sorta. If I'd seen the Osmanthus posting before I went there, and it *was* Osmanthus, I might've gotten that instead.)

    Bookmark   December 8, 2010 at 11:49PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

toni, hollies are dioecious plants, meaning that the family consists of male OR female plants. This means that individual plants that are male will produce male flowers containing all of the male 'pieces and parts', including the pollen (which carries the sperm). The female flower on the female plants have the girly things....ovaries, egg cell, etc. In order for the female holly to produce berries, sperm needs to be transferred from the male to the female. If you've ever been near some flowering hollies in the spring, you know how that happens. They are swarmed by bees and other pollinators!

In hollies, these little white flowers (male and female) look just alike at a casual glance but a closer inspection will make it clear which is which. One can easily see the yellow pollen carrying anthers on the males and the pistil on the female.

Many plants are dioecious, but most are monoecious, meaning that the male and female organs are both carried on the same plant. Some plants have flowers with both sexes in the same flower (roses, for example) while others have the male and female flowers in different locations of the same plant (corn, for example).

There are some exceptions within the Ilex family. Some species mix it up a little, while others bear fruit parthenocarpically (no sperm swapping required).

Neat, huh?

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 11:18AM
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Cliss, mind if I ask if you're in 'The City?' I heard Treasure Island closed long ago...hmm.

Good luck with your new, beautiful, frosty Selaginella. They're so pretty, but definately need high humidity. I bought one a couple years ago, 'didn't research' it died 6 months later..Sorry, don't mean to sound negative.
I really hope it does well for you.
Does TI sell plants that aren't so difficult? lol.

Rhizo, thanks for the explanation.
I bought 'NOID' holly, at HD, oh, in the early 90's. Perhaps it's not getting enough light, well, it isn't, so it's never flowered or berried. It's slow-growing, but considering its location might explain why it grows so slow.
It's evergreen. I wish I'd have seen/bought the one Cliss posted. lol. If hardy to z5.
Anyway, I once 'attempted' digging the entire plant, which isn't taller than 3.5', to place in a sunnier spot, but its roots were embedded, like super-glued. lol.
Thanks again...

    Bookmark   December 10, 2010 at 4:17PM
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Well, I made it back today, and it looks like it's holly...

Oh, well.

Yeah, I'm in Hyde Park, so definitely in "The City". There's a Treasure Island here, and four or five others still around, according to their ads. And they do have easier plants, nominally -- they pretty much always have golden pothos, sometimes spider plants, Dracaena, Dieffenbachia, etc. Usually unlabeled, in a mix that's bad even by the usual standards, plagued by spider mites, and often stuffed in places where they don't get enough light... There's a bunch of Dracaena "Star of India" that have been left underneath a counter for the past two weeks or so. All of which is why I usually avoid buying plants there, sigh...

I managed to keep a Selaginella alive in a terrarium for a few months earlier this year, until I accidentally cooked it by not opening it when the temperature soared into the '90s (and the room it was in wasn't air conditioned). So, this is my second try. If this one doesn't make it, I'll probably give up on the genus.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2010 at 12:30AM
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Cliss, that is one beautiful plant. The variegation is spectacular. If we weren't so far, I'd stop at a TI. lol.
The price is a tad steep, 'for an ornamental,' but what the heck, right? Ppl spend big $ on Poinsettias. The larger the pot, the higher the cost. And your Ilex is different, novel. I've never seen variegated.

If it starts loosing its beauty, perhaps you can give to a friend w/a garden?? Don't know which hardiness zone it'd survive. Better than tossing.

We're now in the burbs, but before moving here lived near the lake. Actually, I was born in Chicago. My dh another state but grew up in the city.

I don't blame you for not buying mite plants..Not a good way to start out. BTW, if the Ilex was near any plants with mites, inspect thoroughly, and hose leaves. If you have a sprayer/mister, add a couple drops of dish soap to water and spray foliage.

For the time being, keep your Ilex in a cool room, nearest a bright window. Take out to view when company arrives. :) Toni

    Bookmark   December 13, 2010 at 3:09PM
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I just purchased two "holiday" hollies very similar to the photos you posted. They are in 6" pots and are about maybe 8-10" tall each. Unfortunately there's no labeling. Although the nursery is a good one (Oakland in Columbus, OH) they were just purchased as holiday stock and they didn't know the variety, They also claimed they were not hardy (a generalized disclaimer I imagine to decrease expectations). But the wonderful part, they were on a cart of other misc plants being clearanced and only cost a dollar each. Can hardly go wrong at that price!
From my searches, the closest varieties (of Ilex Aquifolium) that seem appropriate are either Golden Queen, Aurea Marginata, or Madame Briot. As far as hardiness on these, depending upon the site, I'm guessing about a z7, maybe as low as z6 (which is me). So I'll put them out in my attached unheated garage by the window, where it stays about 35-45 deg thru most of winter and hope they make it. By next winter they'll hopefully be in ground and fending for themselves. Always fun to try.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 10:24PM
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Jason, can't go wrong at that price. Did you buy one or more? You should have picked up a couple. Overwintered in your garage as planned..Planted one in the garden and kept one in a container..During winter, the container Holly could stay in the garage. It'd be worth a try..

Cliss, how are your new plants coming along? Toni

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 1:30AM
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That picture looks very much like my male Ilex aquifolium 'Aureo Marginata' the female of which is Ilex aquifolium 'Madam Briot'. She is more robustly spiny.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2011 at 6:04PM
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