More and more gardeners are turning to native plants for their landscapes. One such choice is the adaptable inkberry (Ilex glabra), a broad-leafed holly with glossy, deep green leaves and white or black berries on a rounded shrub that is found in the wild in coastal plains and swamps of the east coast. As a landscape plant, it does well in a variety of sites, tolerating not only damp soil and partial shade, but dry soils and seaside conditions as well, and is reputed to be deer-resistant.
While the straight species can grow as large as 8' tall and 10' wide, a number of cultivars of more restrained growth have been developed that work well as foundation shrubs, mass plantings or hedges. Recently, as reported in the March 2010 issue of American Nurseryman magazine, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA completed a multi-year evaluation of a thirteen of these cultivars to assess their growth habit, susceptibility to winter injury and overall attractiveness.
Four cultivars stood out as plants with exceptional landscape merit. 'Densa', a 4-8' tall cultivar with a dense, uniformly rounded growth habit, lustrous, deep green foliage and good resistance to leaf spot took first place in the evaluations. 'Bright Green', with small, bright green, boxwood-like leaves came in second. Next was the widely available 'Shamrock,' a 3-5' tall and wide shrub with a very full, rounded habit and small, shiny leaves. Completing the top four was 'Nigra,' a fast-growing cultivar that retained its lower leaves well and is a good choice for gardens in the south.
Inkberries are hardy in USDA Zones 5-9, although some cultivars, such as 'Densa,' and 'Nordic,' do well in zone 4. And, as an added bonus, inkberry is a great food and habitat provider for beneficial insects and butterfly larvae, a good source of nutrition for struggling honeybees and its berries are an excellent winter food source for birds. Who could ask more from a plant?