The Long-Stalk Holly (Ilex Pedunculosa) -Unusual Holly

There are many plants of outstanding merit that, for one reason or another, are ignored for years, only to come into style again suddenly. The long-stalk holly (Ilex pedunculosa), a native of China, is one of these.

Perhaps because it looks less like a holly than many other shrubs, it has received little attention until recently, even though it has been known in America for about 50 years. More widely recognized, however, during the last few years, it bids fair to become one of the most popular broad-leaved evergreens within another decade.

Unusual HollyPin

Evergreen Trees

This is because it is one of the most useful, as well as beautiful, small evergreen trees.

Picture a narrowly conical tree, 25 to 30 feet tall, with evergreen leaves like those of mountain laurel, though smaller and thinner in texture. The leaves are also spineless, while the midrib and leaf edges are red in newly developing foliage.

The tree blossoms on the current year’s wood in early June, later than other hollies. The fruit, bright red and of the size of English holly berries, is borne on 1 to 2-inch stems or peduncles. Usually, the berries are solitary, though occasionally two or even three will be suspended from one stem.

Typically a holly, staminate or male flowers are borne on one tree and pistillate or female on another, which means that a tree of each sex is necessary for berries. Only one male tree is needed to pollinate 10 or 15 berry-bearing plants.

Staminate Flowers

Staminate flowers are so plentiful and fragrant that the aroma is noticeable at some distance from the tree. Holly honey made from them is a gourmet delight.

Though little information is available about the ecology of its native habitat, seedlings in this country appear frequently in the thin mineral soil over a rock outcropping when there is light shade from a high, open stand of conifers.

After the first year, they grow rapidly, reaching four to five feet when they are four years old. Cuttings of the current year’s wood, if taken in late August or September, root readily in a sand-peat moss mixture in a greenhouse propagating bench.

Long-stalk Holly

Several years ago, I thought I had discovered a dwarf variety of the long-stalk holly. In an abandoned nursery in the sandy soil of tidewater Maryland, I came upon a compact specimen, three feet tall and equally wide. Close examination showed it to be at least 20 years old.

Excitedly I took scion wood, which was immediately grafted onto seedling long-stalk holly stock. In the first year, the grafted plant grew 18 inches. At the end of three years, it was six feet tall. Thus apparently, its dwarf condition was due to lack of plant food.

Red Berried Lollies 

From tests made during the past several years, I believe that long-stalk holly is the hardiest of the evergreen, red-berried lollies now being grown in the United States. Small plants have prospered for years on both a north slope and a south slope in southern Vermont.

On more than one occasion since they were planted, the mercury has gone to 20 below zero, sometimes with no snow on the ground. As a hardy broad-leaved evergreen, long-stalk holly is a welcome addition to the plant material for the northern states.

44659 by H. Gleason Mattoon