Trees and Shrubs forum: Do Ilex change sex

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Name: Evan
Pioneer Valley south, MA, USA (Zone 6a)
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eclayne
Dec 31, 2012 6:03 PM CST

Plants Admin

These posts are from other threads I'd like to revisit.
eclayne said:I'm wondering if you can answer a question I asked a while ago about Holly Changing sexes. Three new Blue Prince, I believe Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Prince', were propagated by air layering and are now fairly large. One in particular is loaded with berries in the winter. Can Ilex change sex?

eclayne said:Will cuttings of Holly Blue Prince, maybe Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Prince', change sex and become Princess? I'm thinking that has happened here because one of the old cutting has loads of berries.

eclayne said:Here's a pic of my Prince-ss loaded with berries. I pruned back about 1/3 in the Spring.
Thumb of 2011-11-03/eclayne/73c121
Evan
Name: John
Scott County, KY (Zone 5b)
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ViburnumValley
Dec 31, 2012 8:05 PM CST
I have some questions for you, Evan.

I do not challenge that the image has quite a bit of fruit present. I would like to see more closeups of this plant's parts, and then some general images of the whole plant, its growing conditions and its associates.

I would posit that what you air-layered is not what you thought you air-layered - at least not all of it.

I think I understand you to say that you know of an Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Prince' from which you air-layered several stems, severed them once they were rooted, planted them, watched them grow, and then determined that one propagule has begun to produce fruit. Tell me if any part of that is false.

Do you have pictures of these propagated plants in bloom during any part of their life with you? I would want to see that there were all male flowers on the plants, and that now there are female flowers forming which then set the fruit.

I can theorize a couple ways to arrive at the current condition, but I'd like to hear from you first.

I don't know of an instance where a species of holly like this "changed" sex. I am aware of dioecious species - those that have either male flowers on an individual plant, or female flowers on an individual plant (Ginkgo biloba, for example) - which at some point in their maturity produce the opposite sex of flower on part of the plant, creating an opportunity to pollinate and produce fruit on the same plant. That is not the same as what you may be suggesting is going on with the plant in question.

John
Name: Evan
Pioneer Valley south, MA, USA (Zone 6a)
Charter ATP Member Plant Database Moderator Forum moderator Aroids Irises Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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eclayne
Jan 1, 2013 10:35 AM CST

Plants Admin

I can take more photos. Flowers will have to wait though.

I purchased this plant as Holly 'Blue Prince' (that much I remember and that they had 'Blue Princess') in the early 1970's. I didn't know much about plants then and this was a gift to my father. I experimented with air layering several branches and we then severed and panted these. There are now 3 of these clones in the yard as well as the "parent". I remember moving this clone into it's current position, about 20-25' from the parent. No other Ilex on the property and I haven't seen any nearby, but as these are 3/4 acre lots in suburbia there could be. I bought the place several years ago but had always helped dad with the garden. He passed several years ago so no more info. from there.

I'll be particularly observant this spring and try to gather enough photographic evidence. Thanks for helping with my mystery ViburnumValley.
Evan
Name: John
Scott County, KY (Zone 5b)
You can't have too many viburnums..
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ViburnumValley
Jan 1, 2013 1:54 PM CST
I'm not sure that I've knowingly ever seen a 40 year old Meserve Holly. How big is that fella? Has it ever been pruned? If that plant is still alive, photos of it would be an awesome contribution to the Database. A documentary of its life and "offspring" would make a great article for the Holly Society Journal - I could steer you to appropriate contacts in that regard.

With that additional information, here are two possible scenarios.

1. Somewhere along the time line from initial propagation of the offspring but before the time you moved the one, that original propagule didn't survive and someone (your dad?) replaced it with a purchased female plant - unbeknownst to you.

2. My initial thoughts before you provided further information...it is well-known and not that uncommon for growers/nurserymen to plant a male and female clone of hollies in the same container or field-grown site. This guarantees that both required partners in pollination are present. If this was the situation in your case, you could have layered both male and female branches from the initial installation.

This is why seeing images of flowers is important. It is easy to tell a male holly flower from a female holly flower - the presence of stamens designate the male flower, and the large central green "bump" of the ovary designate the female flower. Examination of all the plants during flowering should yield some answers, although not necessarily a definitive solution to exactly how you arrived at this situation.
John
Name: Evan
Pioneer Valley south, MA, USA (Zone 6a)
Charter ATP Member Plant Database Moderator Forum moderator Aroids Irises Celebrating Gardening: 2015
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Tropicals Foliage Fan Bulbs Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge)
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eclayne
Jan 1, 2013 4:19 PM CST

Plants Admin

Thanks for all the wonderful insights. It wouldn't surprise me at all if my father bought a princess. I remember several great old nurseries around here which no longer exist so it might turn out to be a male and female together.

The prince is alive and well but a shadow of his former self. We planted him in the front, south face, of the house in an L, about 5 feet from one wall and 6 feet from the other. At the time we were worried about him surviving in z5 so gave him a protecting spot. With pruning he filled this space and grew well over my head. I can get a good estimate tomorrow as I remember trying to see out that window and having much of the "view" blocked. In 2010 I pruned him back by half and half again in 2011. I remember being fairly tentative the first time because I wasn't fully convinced about how well and quickly they fill out. Well it was all true.

He's looking a bit odd right now as I didn't prune any of the longer branches, which I usually do for the holidays. I'll look thru my dad's old garden photo's and see what I can find.

Happy New Year!
Evan
[Last edited by eclayne - Jan 1, 2013 4:22 PM (+)]
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Name: John
Scott County, KY (Zone 5b)
You can't have too many viburnums..
Region: United States of America Region: Kentucky Farmer Cat Lover Birds Bee Lover
Butterflies Enjoys or suffers hot summers Enjoys or suffers cold winters Dog Lover Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge)
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ViburnumValley
Jan 1, 2013 6:19 PM CST
Your initial question triggered an immersion into holly botany that I haven't enjoyed in quite some time.

I dusted off my weathered copy of Hollies: the Genus Ilex by the late Fred Galle, and read up on Ilex flower morphology and the whole history of Kathleen Meserve's epic hybridization efforts. I'm all aglow.

Sounds like the old Blue Prince has had a workout over the years. Still, having known pretty much its whole life is a tale in itself - and tying it back to fond family memories and other touchstones makes it a compelling story. The mystery of the surprise fruiting just adds spice.
John

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