Plant of the Week – January 10, 2019: Possumhaw holly
I’ve featured several hollies here over the past couple of months. That only stands to reason since I’m known pretty much as a holly fanatic.
This one, however, Ilex decidua, is unique among them. As its name implies, it’s deciduous. It loses its leaves in the winter while all of our other common hollies are evergreen. That allows its berries to shine forth like little red beacons.
The first possumhaw holly (no, I can’t explain the name) that I ever saw was on North Avenue in Bryan, Texas, just a couple of blocks west of Highway 6, Texas Avenue. I was just a kid, but that plant made quite an impression on me back then. The next time I’m back home I’ll drive by to see if it’s still there. They certainly do live that long.
Jump ahead 30 years and I was working at the TAMU Center on Coit Road in North Dallas. My colleague Benny Simpson, one of Texas’ most respected native plant experts, said to me one day, “Neil, you need to see this new plant we’ve just set out. It’s called ‘Warren’s Red’ possumhaw holly, and it’s a real beauty.” Benny told me it had been developed at the by-then-closed Warren’s Nursery in Oklahoma City and selected because of its larger, redder berries and its reluctance to send up root sprouts.
I never met a holly I didn’t like, so I asked Benny where he’d bought his. I got one for our landscape, and I’ve been in love with this plant ever since.
Here are the particulars…
• Ilex decidua ‘Warren’s Red.’
• Winter-hardy throughout Texas.
• Grows to be 12-14 ft. tall and 8-10 ft. wide.
• Growth habit is somewhat like a tree-form crape myrtle.
• Use as small accent tree near entry or at corner of house. Plant 8-12 ft. out from the house.
• Only female plants produce berries, so either buy one with fruit or buy the named cultivar ‘Warren’s Red.’
• Berries ripen in November and persist until cedar waxwings clear them out in late winter.
• Sun or part sun. Best fruit production comes in sun.
• Adapted to wide range of soils – no special bed preparation required.
• No particular insects or diseases.
Your nurseryman will be very familiar with Warren’s Red possumhaw holly. Give it a try in your gardens. You won’t regret it.