Ilex opaca is a native holly, and it can get to be a huge tree. It's not the small foundation holly bush that you see around homes. It's a tree, and a spectacular one.
|I took this photo last summer at the Connecticut College arboretum in New London (along the Connecticut shoreline). It is about 25 feet tall. It is in a sunny clearing in the woods, not far from the ocean, apparently the perfect conditions for it.|
It has it all --- it's deep green (not so glossy as English holly, though), it is evergreen, perfectly shaped, and it has berries. It has branches that grow to the ground, although old specimens become more open.
It looks like Christmas all year long. Joene from Joene's Garden suggested it for the open space next to my house where the former Bradford Pear tree met its demise.
But do I dare experiment with one? My reservation is that no one sells them here in zone 5 northern Connecticut. When I tried to get Ilex opaca at local nurseries I was told they are hardy (marginally), and will survive the winter temperatures but are too prone to winter burn. They need to be grown in a protected spot, which I don't really have. The east side of my house will give it afternoon shade in the summer. But not much protection in winter.
One landscaper said he could get an American holly for me and would plant it, but would not give me the standard one year planting guarantee. And yet there are mature holly trees around here, planted many years ago in parks and estates. The green shaded native range map from Wikipedia just shows where they grow naturally, not where they CAN grow.
I so want this perfect looking tree. Do I dare?
I have pushed zones with some trees and they do well (my sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum, shouldn't grow here but does. And a persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is native further south but thrives for me.)
|I took this photo of Ilex opaca at the elevated High Line Park in Manhattan this fall. It is about 10 feet high. It is potentially exposed to winter winds up there, 30 feet above New York's streets, but it is near the moderating ocean.|
Apparently an Ilex opaca north of its preferred range will not get as big. But what I really want is that tree from the photograph I took at Conn College last summer --- the photo at the top of this post. That is what I want growing in an open sunny spot in my garden where the poor beknighted pear tree once was.
Joene tells me she has seen open planted specimens in her neighborhood, planted out where the sun and the wind are. And they do well. She is only a few miles south of me in central Connecticut.
Do I dare try one? What if it winterburns and looks horrible and is a mistake?
If you garden inland north of the Mason Dixon line, and you have grown Ilex opaca successfully, and it looks great and doesn't get crispy in winter, send me a picture and some encouragement.
The University of Connecticut (UConn) plant database shows some huge American holly specimens, and the school is located in northern Connecticut. I just don't know if their photos are all campus shots or if they post pictures from other parts of the country.