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January’s Northern Neck plant of the month

Posted on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at 4:00 pm

The American Holly, Ilex opaca, is one our few broadleaf evergreen trees in the Northern Neck and is a fabulous landscape plant for gardens. They have long been a symbol of renewal and life during the depths of winter. Hollies light up the gray and brown winter landscape of our coastal woodlands with their lustrous green leaves that catch the winter light, and scarlet berries. Old hollies in the wild can reach up to 50’ or more in height with a trunk diameter of up to 1.5’, but in our gardens they rarely reach 30’ because of their slow growth. American hollies make handsome specimens with their densely pyramidal shape, spine-tipped, evergreen foliage, and smooth gray bark.

Like most members of the holly family, American hollies are dioecious, meaning individual trees are either female or male. Females bear the showy fruit that often persists into late winter or early spring, unless eaten by hordes of hungry robins or cedar waxwings. Birds tend to leave the astringent-tasting fruit until other food is in short supply, making hollies an important late-winter food source. Repeated freezing and thawing of the berries are reputed to sweeten and ferment them, causing more than a few stories of apparently tipsy robins. The fruit is also eaten by turkeys, quail, other songbirds and small mammals.

For the full article, pick up the latest Westmoreland News 1/8/20