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Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

Posted by dave_in_nova VA zone 7a (My Page) on
Tue, Oct 22, 13 at 13:44

I also posted this on the tree forum.

I found these hollies growing in Falls Church, VA, that I cannot indentify (species? cultivar?).

Really the greatest features of these hollies are the mostly spineless leaves with a nice color, good berry production and smaller size.

I would say over half the leaves on the tree are completely spineless and the remainder of them have anywhere from 1 to a half dozen minor spines. The leaves are anywhere from 1.5" to 3" long and maybe 1/2 as wide. Shape is elliptical.

Tree form is a rather open pyramid. These were maybe 15 tall at most. This area is quite dry and they get no supplemental water that I can see. They've been there for years.

My first inclination was that these might be an Ilex x attenuata cultivar -- something with I. cassine and I. opaca. (Or maybe pure cassine?) Possibly one of of the Hume cultivars like Hume #2, but I've never seen them in person as they seem to be very rarely sold in commerce -- especially around here. The written descriptions sound very close though.

Any ideas? They would make a wonderful small tree for the urban garden because of their smaller size -- nothing like I. opaca. And very few spines, so a very friendly holly -- plus the nice show of berries.

I took cuttings and have a nice 3-footer growing in my garden. Don't know if they need a similar species pollinator though. If attenuata, then likely local I. opacas will do.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

Probably a hybrid of Ilex opaca and Ilex cassine. Popular cultivars of those hybrids are 'Foster#1' and 'Foster#2' and 'Savannah'.

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.


It's not any of the Fosters. Those leaves are too narrow and too uniformly spiney. And they are hybrids of I. opaca with I. cassine var. myrtilifolia (the narrow-leaf [Myrtle-leaf] dahoon - also known as Ilex myrtilifolia).

'Savannah' is also much spinier than this and has rounder, more obovate leaves. The leaf shape is also different than 'East Palatka' or 'Greenleaf'.

So I'm stumped.

Here's another closeup.

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

It might be a Winter Bounty holly, a cross of I. ciliospinosa x I. latifolia, bred by the renowned Dr. Elwin Orton.

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

Definitely not 'Winter Bounty' [I. ciliospinosa x I. latifolia]. That one has uniform very small spines the length of the margin. I have that one in my garden as well.

The leaves of this one are more recurving and graceful than Winter Bounty.

I know it's been a long time since my first post. But I have still not ID'd this beauty.

I'm still leaning toward an obscure x attenuata hybrid with a very strong I. cassine influence.

I'm only familiar with Fosters #2 (this is not it) and not any of the other Fosters.

This post was edited by dave_in_nova on Mon, Jun 30, 14 at 13:24

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

Perhaps it's a Dahoon Holly (Ilex Casine)?
However I do see some spines on quite of few of the leaves on the photo, so it may also be a Ilex attenuate 'East Palatka' or heterophylly of an American Holly with smoother leaves.

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

I believe pure Dahoon does not have spines. This one has maybe 20% of the leaves with a few rogue spines - and those toward the tips.

It's def. not 'East Palatka'. East Palatka has rounder leaves.

But what is a 'heterophylly'?

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

"The ability of an organism to change its characteristics in response to environmental variations is known as phenotypic plasticity and it is a key driving factor in the evolution of a species....In plants this is often seen in eye-catching changes to leaves and flowers related to variable growing conditions. Every gardener knows that leaves produced in deep shade and under full sun are often very different in size and shape...However, this variation of leaf forms can also take place within a single tree of many different species, and it is known as heterophylly."

“Heterophylly is often witnessed in holly trees, where some leaves are prickly, a defense against herbivores, while others are non-prickly, with smooth margins and no defense"

So in essence, I wouldn't simply rule out East Palatka, since your suspect trees are growing in a different environment than the specimen you might have witnessed and compared to. East Palatka certainly can have longer or narrower leaves, and it is in fact a hybrid between the Dahoon (Ilex casine) and American holly (Ilex opaca). Heterophylly is also the reason why some American Holly trees can have completely smooth leaves while others are very prickly.

This post was edited by bluema on Tue, Jul 1, 14 at 11:00

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

I've witnessed this particular variety -- as in at least 4 trees -- growing in a grocery store parking lot area. Then I took cuttings and am growing my own trees. Pretty much all the leaves are the same whether in sun, shade, fast growth; slow growth, although the number of spines varies a bit. But none of the leaves are as round as other known East Palatkas I've seen in the area. East Palatka leaves seem to be more obovate to elliptical - at least from multiple images I've seen as well as actual trees. That is why I suspect it's not an East Palatka. But I'm open to any speculation.

Also, East Palatka is propagated by cuttings, so it is a genetic clone. There wouldn't be THAT much variation in a clone. Seedlings, for sure, where the gene pool gets mixed and expressed differently.

Also, the original trees look like they may have been planted quite a while ago -- maybe over 20 years. There is NOTHING like them elsewhere in the area that I have seen.

Honestly there are so many holly hybrids that have been 'discontinued', forgotten or 'pushed out of the market' and are now virtually unknown in current markets. For example, I've never witnessed a 'Hume #2' but the written description sounds very similar to what I have.

Fosters #2 and Nellie Stevens have so dominated the market that not much else has a chance. Housing developers don't want to experiment with things that might fail or aren't 'bullet proof' for their area. Nor do nurseries.

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

Heterophylly expresses itself even on clones. Often a holly can have different leaves on different parts of the same exact tree. You might want to try googling the term and for the images. I'm leaning towards East Palatka as they can look exactly like your photos, especially with different soil and sun.

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

Thanks bluema

Well, if it's really East Palatka, then I say Great! They are extremely rare around here and I'm happy to have one.

I also have a 'San Gabriel' (aquifolium) that displays quite varied leaves on the same plant. Most are nearly spineless, but ocassionally it will put out a branch of very spiny leaves.

I think hollies are just very interesting plants. I have about 15 varieties in my yard -- many spineless. They seem to do well here in the Mid-Atlantic.

I'm trying to find a few more male pollenizers that will give me a wider window of pollen for my females.

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

Since I've moved to TN last year, I've planted over 20 holly trees in my property. I guess you can say I love hollies. I have many Eastern Bluebirds around my property that I wanted to help supplement (along with dogwoods) and I love the way hollies look during winter while providing privacy. Now I just need to wait around 10 years+ for them to grow to the height I'd want. :)

As far as the pollinators go, I have Blue Prince and Jersey Knights (for my evergreen trees, including foster's, M. Helen, Winter Bounty, etc etc), but you might want to look into Blue Stallion for your spineless varieties including San Gabriel since it has a very long bloom period.

Here's a link to a good holly pollination chart.

If I were you, I'd get a bunch of holly cuttings in the late fall from the East P and root them. I think they're absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately none of the holly trades around here will touch East P since they're not reliably hardy, which is the reason why they're rare although they're more common further down south around FL.

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

Glad to see someone else is into hollies.

Scepter, Cherry Bomb, and Virginia are also some interesting I. integra hybrids.

I also really like nearly all the I. latifolia hybrids. Love those large leaves. Besides straight latifolia species, I also have 'Agena', several x koeheanas, including 'Lassie', and some odd cornuta x latifolia hybrid which looks a lot like 'Venus'.

I will see how (possible) East Palatka does in my zone 7a. The plant in my yard is about 4 feet high now. Seems to be a fast grower. And an easy rooter.

Isn't there a holly arboretum in Tenn. somewhere?

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

Yes, Elmore Holly Collection in Oak Ridge is pretty close to where I live. I got into hollies after seeing a magnificent 40+ year old holly tree at the house my husband grew up in, and his mother had no idea what it was. I later identified it as foster's, but it had been almost impossible to find foster's with the same growth potential, or ones that even look similar to it. Most in the market are multi-trunks with curvy stems for quick-fill. I eventually found several with single-trunk potentials, and now I have 3 single-trunk 7 footers planted in my garden although I've severely pruned them down. I'm sure they'll fill out eventually and get loaded with berries for many birds to hang out in, just as in my mother-in-law's (photo attached). So with my experience, I'm partial to large evergreen holly trees of l. opaca origin.

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

That is a magnificent Fosters.

Fosters is certainly one of the most popular of the 'smaller' hollies here in the Mid Atlantic. Although, with time it does get big as you know. Here they are sold mostly as single-trunked, pyramidal small trees.

I have 'Sunny Foster' in my yard -- just for variety. It's been nearly broken in half from ice, but recovered with some wrapping. It's finally getting some robustness to it now. Small trees are so touch-and-go for their first years in the ground. So many things fighting against their establishment -- with wind, cold, drought, ice, rodents, deer, bugs, etc.

We have native opaca hollies all over here. They come up in my yard, so I guess I'm a bit bored by them. And the leaves don't have the gloss like other hollies. But they certainly can contribute some good qualities (hardiness, strength, vigor) to hybrids. And there are some nice cultivars -- such as 'Satyr Hill'.

If you ever get out here to the DC area, you must visit the National Arboretum Holly Collection. Best time to visit is October or early November, when the berries color up.

Many great hybrids have originated from there. Too bad there's not the gov't money to continue breeding programs like the old ones.

I'd love to see an I. pedunculosa x I. latifolia hybrid! That might create a very hardy large-leafed, possibly spineless holly.

RE: Would love ideas on what kind of holly this is.

I've been to DC during early 2000's for business trips but that was before my holly fever kicked in. Fosters are usually sold in small pyramidal form here as well, but when you take a close look underneath, you'll most likely see that trunks are curvy and don't have the straight trunk all the way to the top. I've looked at every single foster's hollies in all nurseries until I gave up and special ordered trained larger trees, that still ended up being multi-branched with some potential that I was able to prune down. My husband thought I killed those (expensive) trees after the initial assaults, but they're leafing out just fine.

I see your preference with large glossy leaved spineless hollies. I like dainty leaved big hollies (but not too big as straight opaca) that bear large amount of small red berries for the birds. It's good that there are so may varieties of hollies that we can choose from. : )

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