Plant of the Week: American Holly

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Author: 
Orrin Sheehan
Photo by Friends of the High Line. The American holly's red berries contrast beautifully with its dark green leaves. Photo by Friends of the High Line.

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Ilex opaca, the American holly, is a slow-growing broadleaf evergreen tree native to the eastern United States. The growth habit of this species is pyramidal with a maximum height of fifty feet.

American holly enjoys moist, rich, acidic soils preferably in full sun. Growth will be sparse in low-light conditions. This species is dioecious, meaning that there are separate male and female trees. In order for females to bear fruit, there must be at least one male tree nearby to ensure pollination.

The American holly has tiny green flowers in early summer that mature into abundant red berries persisting all winter. In addition to being an important food source for wildlife, the berries are a striking ornamental feature and contrast beautifully with the spiny dark green leaves. These leaves are susceptible to winter wind desiccation and fare better in well-protected areas.

Boughs of the American holly are commonly collected for Christmas decorations – of course, not ones along the High Line!

On the High Line you will find the cultivar ‘Dan Fenton,’ which grows smaller than its wild counterparts. Despite its name, Dan Fenton American holly is a female tree.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
You can see the American holly in the High Line’s Chelsea Thicket, between West 20th Street and West 22nd Street.

Download our December Bloom Guide.