Hooray for Holly

By Susan Littlefield

It is a Christmas tradition to "deck the halls with boughs of holly," although the custom of using holly as a decoration for winter time festivals and celebrations goes back to the Druids of ancient Britain, the Romans, even the Chinese. Evergreen hollies were the plants used in these customs and are still used today for our Yuletide decorating.

But all hollies are not evergreen. Within the genus Ilex are deciduous hollies that are not only great landscape plants but are useful for holiday decorating as well. In fact, the Holly Society of America, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to collect, promote and disseminate information on all kinds of hollies, has chosen the deciduous winterberry holly Ilex verticillata 'Winter Sprite' as its 2010 Holly of the Year.

'Winter Sprite' winterberry is a dwarf form that grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, with a dense, rounded habit. In summer it is clothed in green leaves that change to yellow in the fall. But its large, bright red berries are the real show, borne in abundance on female plants well into winter. This dazzling display is also attractive to many birds as a source of winter food, and cut branches are perfect for adding color to holiday greenery. An early flowering male winterberry cultivar, such as 'Jim Dandy' or 'Skipjack,' is needed nearby to ensure fruit set on 'Winter Sprite.' Hardy in zones 3-9, this winterberry thrives in moist, acid soil in full sun to part shade.

To find out more about 'Winter Sprite' winterberry, go to: Holly Society of America.

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