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How To Tell The Difference Between A Male And Female Holly Bush

How To Tell The Difference Between A Male And Female Holly Bush


By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

Numerous shrubs produce berries, many of which using both male and female flowers on the same plant. However, some shrubs– like holly— are dioecious, meaning they require separate male and female plants in order for pollination to occur.

Of course, in their native environments, this doesn’t pose a problem. Nature simply takes care of itself. In the home landscape, however, knowing how to tell the difference between a male and female holly bush is important. If you don’t have at least one male within close proximity of a female, pollination will not occur. As a result, there will be no berries on holly. It takes just one male to pollinate several female plants.

Holly Plant Male and Female Differences

Male and female holly flowers grow on different plants. Although some plants may be tagged with their particular sex, this is rarely the case. Therefore, it is oftentimes up to you to determine the difference. This is not an easy task. It is nearly impossible to distinguish the male and female holly bush prior to blooming.

Generally, all females produce berries. Males do not. If you find a plant with berries, it’s usually safe to say that it is female. The best way to determine the sex of holly plants is by examining the flowers, which are located between the leaf and branch joint. Although the small clusters of creamy white flowers are similar in appearance, males have more prominent stamens than females.

Types of Holly Shrubs

There are many types of holly shrubs:

  • English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is one of the most common with its familiar glossy, dark green spiky leaves and bright red berries used for Christmas displays.
  • Chinese holly (I. cornuta) is one of the few types of holly shrubs that can actually produce berries without male pollination. These berries vary in color from red, dark orange to yellow.
  • The Japanese holly (I. crenata) produces vibrant black colored berries. This is also true of the inkberry variety (I. glabra), which is very similar and just as striking.
  • There are several varieties of Blue holly (I. x meserveae) available as well, which produce attractive bluish green foliage, purple stems, and red berries.

To ensure you have both male and females, stick with similar varieties of holly plant, male and female are not always labeled. Named cultivars, however, are usually found in both male and female varieties. For instance, ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess,’ ‘China Boy’ and ‘China Girl,’ or ‘Blue Stallion’ and ‘Blue Maid.’

One word of caution, not all male/female names can be relied upon. Take, for example, the variegated Golden holly varieties ‘Golden King’ and ‘Golden Queen.’ The names are deceptive, as ‘Golden King’ is actually the female plant while ‘Golden Queen’ is the male.

Planting Holly Shrubs

When planting holly shrubs, place them in full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil. The best time for planting holly shrubs is fall, although spring is also suitable depending on your particular region. Warmer climates benefit from fall planting so their roots have plenty of time to take hold before the onset of hot, dry summers. Hollies should be spaced 2 to 3 feet (61-91 cm.) apart, depending on the variety used and overall size. Most types of holly shrubs have shallow root systems so add mulch.

Holly shrubs can also benefit from occasional pruning to enhance their appearance.

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Homestead Stories: The Holly And The Ivy

Author: Emily-Jane Hills Orford // Last updated on November 5, 2020 Leave a Comment

“The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown. Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.” I hummed the tune happily as I dialed my parents’ number. I would be going home in a few days to spend Christmas with the family. I was excited and definitely in the mood for some Christmas cheer.

I heard the phone being answered at the other end, instantly recognizing the voice. “I’m bringing home some fresh cut-holly, Mom,” I said, the tune of the song still running through my head. At the time, I lived in the temperate climate of Victoria, British Columbia, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. I had access to all kinds of greenery that grew well throughout the year—particularly holly.

We had holly bushes at home but not the English variety, the ones which sparked the appropriate sentiments in the popular Christmas carol. So, a trip home to southwestern Ontario for Christmas encouraged me to take some of this greenery with me.

Mom sounded pleased. “I’ll be able to trim the mantel over the fireplace with real holly.”

“With real, bright red berries,” I added.

Liz West / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Mom had holly bushes in her garden, but they were not as bright, shiny green-leafed, or as berry-full as these. I didn’t take time to consider the other greenery mentioned in the song, the ivy. I had lived in old houses covered in ivy.

Picturesque as it might be, I had been quickly turned off ivy early on. My first house was an old stone structure, covered in ivy. Caterpillars dropped by the bucketful, literally, as I carried my effects into the new home. Both my belongings and I were covered in those mushy, squirmy things. I wasn’t impressed. Once settled, the ivy was the first thing to go. Along with the caterpillars.

My love for the luscious green holly bush continued. Years later, when I settled on my little piece of country paradise, I decided I needed a holly bush, or two, or more. Somewhere. As usual, before jumping into the planning and planting I did my research. What I discovered about holly truly amazed me. Holly belonged to a genus of 400 to 600 species of flowering plants.

oatsy40 / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Part of the Aquifoliaceae family, this evergreen, deciduous tree or shrub could be, and was, grown in both the tropics and the more temperate zones around the world. Although I remembered how my mother’s holly bush struggled to survive year after year, until she had to finally cut it down, I discovered that there was no reason why I couldn’t successfully grow some holly in my northern climate, as long as I chose the right holly for my area.

My mother’s two holly bushes, at their peak of growth, were in partly shady, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Remembering this, I studied my property intently to find the ideal location for my holly bush. It wasn’t easy. With a largely wooded lot, my garden areas were either full sun or full shade. It was time to get creative and develop a new garden space, one that would be accentuated by the holly bush.

Thinking back again to my mother’s holly bushes and their sad decline, I wondered if perhaps her bushes were crowded out by other shrubs and plantings that drained the soil of its nutrients. I decided to keep my holly garden as simple as possible. Totally uncluttered. Not an easy task for me, as I’m much like my mother. Gardening begins with a certain amount of order and planning and then becomes a collage of just about everything, clustered together like a montage of diverse shapes, sizes, and colors.


Is this bush a male or female holly?

We inherited a beautiful large holly bush when we bought our house. I would like to know if it is a male or female bush.

It does not have any red berries in the winter which is the only visual cue I personally would know to identify if the bush were male or female. From my walks around the neighborhood I have not observed a single other holly bush- nothing within the range specified to provide pollination to this bush. Thus, I assume that it could be a female, but not receiving necessary pollination to make the berries.

I would like to buy another holly at some point and I would like the buy the opposite gender so that one of the bushes could sport the lovely berries.

Today I browsed the plants at our local Menards and observed that their Blue Prince holly bushes looked identical to my bush in every aspect other than size.


Uncovering the Unique and Different Types of Holly Bushes

When talking about holly bushes, most people don't know that the berries on these bushes were so useful that they were actually cultivated in medieval Europe to provide food for cattle. There's a lot more information about these wondrous plants that could make you marvel on its value.

When talking about holly bushes, most people don’t know that the berries on these bushes were so useful that they were actually cultivated in medieval Europe to provide food for cattle. There’s a lot more information about these wondrous plants that could make you marvel on its value.

Holly bushes (botanical name – Ilex) are a genus containing more than 400 species. They are ornamental plants that have been used for decoration and as hedges since ages. Different types of holly bushes are used widely in flower gardens all across Europe and America. They are also found in parts of Asia and Africa. These bushes are dark evergreen plants with bright-colored berries which serve as a great source of food for birds and herbivores. They can grow up to considerable heights like 60 feet and above. They are naturally very hardy, which means they can endure extreme climates without withering.

Blue Holly: Ilex Meserveae

This variety of holly gets its name from its creator, Mrs. F. Leighton Meserve from New York. Mrs. Meserve used two different types of hollies, Ilex Rogusa (which was strong but not very attractive) and Ilex Aquifolium (which was attractive but not very hardy) and created a hybrid in the early 1960s. This hybrid was both attractive and hardy. The first hybrids were called Blue Boy and Blue Girl (as hollies are males or females). Later, as more hybrids were created, they got different names like Blue Prince and Blue Princess, Blue Maid and Blue Stallion, Blue Angel, Honey Maid, Golden Girl, etc.

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These bushes are dark green, and bear bright red berries. They are one of the most commonly found varieties and grow up to a height of 9 to 12 feet. As they grow, their foliage turns from dark green to a waxen blue-green color. This is why they are called Blue Holly. Their berries are useful if you wish to attract robins or other small birds to your garden, as they are favorites of birds and insects. Apart from attracting birds, they also serve as wonderful garden hedge plants. Their dark green foliage punctuated with bright red berries gives your garden a festive look all throughout the year.

Japanese Holly: Ilex Crenata

This type grows slowly, but can live longer than 75 years. The distinguishable feature of this holly is that, though its branching habit is dense, its leaves are textured delicately and are spiked. The berries are generally black, but on some Japanese Holly bushes, they are a shade of golden yellow.

Other names and varieties that come under the Japanese Holly are Convexa, Microphylla, Dwarf Pagoda, Green Lustre, etc. These types grow up to an average height of 2 to 13 feet. They are hardy and can be pruned severely. This feature makes them an excellent choice for strong and tall garden hedges.

American Holly: Ilex Opaca

The American Holly, as the name suggests, is among the native American holly bushes. This type grows up to a height of 15 to 30 feet. The foliage is deep green and the leaves are small and pointed. They bear bright scarlet berries. Some other cultivars of the American Holly are Cobalt, Cardinal Hedge, Miss Helen, etc. The American Holly is widely used as an ornamental plant for landscape designs in gardens across America and Europe and also for festive decorations.

Chinese Holly: Ilex Cornuta

The Chinese Holly is a very densely foliated shrub that can grow up to a height of 25 feet. The leaves are deep, glossy green and the bush is rounded. The berries are initially tiny and light green, and they grow and progressively turn yellow and finally auburn. This variety is the first one that bears flowers and fruit in the spring and has the largest berries among all the holly varieties.

The unique feature about this shrub is that it can bear berries independent of male shrubs. However, berries grow abundantly if there is a male shrub in the vicinity. Since the foliage is almost impermeable, this bush is perfect to be used a privacy hedge. Some of its cultivars are Dwarf Burford, Carissa, etc.

Inkberry Holly: Ilex Glabra

The Inkberry Holly is probably the hardiest of all the kinds of holly. It can withstand extreme cold, a fair amount of heat and grows well in wet and marshy swamp areas. The leaves, which are bright green in the beginning, turn dark and glistening green as they mature. As the plant grows older, it begins to droop towards the ground. The Inkberry Holly grows up to 8 to 10 feet. The black berries that it bears are a good source of food for birds. Since this shrub does not have a very thick foliage, it can be used as a bordering decoration around ponds, bridges, buildings, etc. Some cultivars are Shamrock, Nordic, Nigra, etc.

English Holly: Ilex Aquifolium

The English Holly is a native plant of Europe. It was brought to North America to be used as an ornamental plant. An average English Holly can grow up to 30 feet. The foliage is thick and the leaves are pointed and sharp around the edges. The leaves are a deep shade of green, waxy and have a shiny appearance. The flowers are sweet-smelling and the berries are deep red. The English Holly berries are poisonous if ingested by humans. Even birds and insects wait until the berries are fully ripe before they consume the berries as they are extremely bitter. Its cultivars include Rubricaulis Aurea, Peter’s, etc.

How to Plant a Holly Bush

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If good care is not taken during planting, holly bushes will not be able to serve their purpose and your garden might turn out to look hideous! Read on to know more about how you can plant them.

  • First dig a deep hole in the soil where you intend to keep the bush, as they don’t grow well if transferred from one location to another. The hole should be almost as deep as the container from which you will be planting the bush, and at least thrice as wide.
  • Then, carefully remove the bush and place it in the hole.
  • Holly bushes grow well in sunlight but they grow reasonably well in shade too. So, plant the bushes in a spot where they get almost equal amount of sunlight and shade.
  • The peculiarity of these bushes is that they are dioecious, i.e., each plant has only one set of reproductive organs, either male or female. Hence, for pollination to take place, it is necessary that male and female bushes are planted within a distance of 5 to 6 feet from each other.
  • After planting the bushes, water them generously.
  • Then fertilize the bushes with an acidic fertilizer as they prefer acidic soil.

Tip: The best time to plant a holly bush is at the beginning of winter, and in a swampy area, as hollies prefer wet areas. They are slow growers but add a merry look to your garden!

How to Identify if a Bush is Male or Female

As mentioned earlier, holly bushes are dioecious. Even though they are inherently male and female individually, it becomes rather difficult to ‘identify’ a male from a female at first glance. Read the tips given below to know how to identify one from the other.

  • By Flowers: Both male and female holly bushes bear flowers with 4 petals. If you take a minute look at the center of the flowers, you will notice either 4 yellow stamens or a green bulb-like structure. The flowers with yellow stamens are males and the ones with green bulbs are females.
  • By Berries: Generally, it is only female bushes that produce berries due to pollination. Hence, it is quite safe to say that holly bushes with berries are female and the ones without berries are males.

Hope this article has helped you. The next time you think of landscaping or want to spiffy up your garden, make sure you choose the right type of holly and take good care of it.


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