Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Prince' pp 3517
& 'Blue Princess' pp 3675

Blue Holly
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Family: Holly family (Aquifoliaceae)
Native Habitat: of garden origin

When most people think of Holly, they imagine branches of evergreen leaves and bright-red berries partially covered with snow and it's probably sometime near Christmas. They're probably bells jingling in the background too. That's a great imaginary picture and one a lot of people want to re-create at Christmastime. However, in much of the northern U.S. there is one problem with that. The Holly that fits that picture is English Holly (Ilex aquifolium), and even its hardiest cultivars are hardy to only -10F at the most. If you live in Zone 4 or 5, you're not going to be able to grow English Holly.

To the rescue came Mrs. F. Leighton Meserve of St. James, NY. Beginning in the early 1950's she made hybrid crosses of I. aquifolium and Ilex rugosa, a low-growng and cold- hardy species. This race of new hybrids became known as "Blue Hollies" for their blue-green foliage. 'Blue Prince' and 'Blue Princess' are among her best creations. They have leathery, evergreen leaves with sharp spines on the leaf margins; just like English Ivy. And yes, they sport clusters of persistent bright-red berries in fall and winter; just like English Holly. They do not grow nearly as tall. It's possible they may reach 10 or 12 ft., but most specimens top out at 6 or 8 ft. They're really a medium to large size shrub, not tree-sized like English Holly. Best of all, they are hardy to -20 or even -25F and can be grown in Zone 5 and parts of Zone 4.

To successfully grow them, there are several things you must be aware of. These are dioecious plants, meaning there are separate male and female plants. Only females ('Blue Princess') will produce berries, but you must plant a male ('Blue Prince') within 400 ft. to serve as a pollinator for the females. Otherwise, no berries will be produced. Another concern is proper siteing. They are not at their best in full sun. Light shade and a moist but well drained soil is best. They also will grow well in medium shade but their form will definitely be looser.

Ornamental Characteristics:
Leathery, evergreen, glossy blue-green leaves with spiny-toothed margins. Inconspicuous springtime white flowers give way to clusters of red berries on female plants in fall and winter.
Habit & Growth Rate:
Upright evergreen shrub. May grow to over 10 ft. tall but most specimens top out at 6 to 8 ft. Slow to medium growth rate.
Landscape Uses: Shrub border, masses, foundation plantings.
Hardiness: Zone 4 to 7
Light to medium shade best. Moist but well-drained soils. Must plant both female and male plants to produce berries.