Holly of the Year 2022

 

Ilex x attenuata ‘Longwood Gold’

Ilex x attenuata ‘Longwood Gold’
Photo: Ilex x attenuata ‘Longwood Gold’ at University of Delaware Botanic Gardens, Newark, Delaware, January 9, 2015. (Jim Resch)

Holly of the Year for 2022
Ilex x attenuata ‘Longwood Gold’


By Jim Resch

Members of the Holly Society of America have chosen Ilex x attenuata ‘Longwood Gold’ as the Holly of the Year for 2022. As the name suggests, this female holly hails from Longwood Gardens in southeastern Pennsylvania, and bears abundant crops of bright yellow fruit. These contrast nicely with the plant’s unusually dark green foliage. Unlike some hollies that have come to us through years of selective breeding and carefully planned crosses, ‘Longwood Gold’ arose as a kind of happy accident five decades ago.

According to Longwood, in the early 1970s it received open-pollinated seed from Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia, from a tree labeled Ilex forrestii, a rare species native to East Tibet and China. Only later did the Morris Arboretum re-identify the tree from which the seed was collected, as the more familiar Ilex x attenuata ‘Fosteri’. Ilex x attenuata, also called Topel holly, is the name given to a naturally occurring cross between two North American species, Ilex opaca and Ilex cassine. Apparently, a simple typing error had changed the ‘Fosteri’ cultivar name to Ilex forrestii.1 In the meanwhile, one of the seedlings turned out to have yellow fruit and superior cold tolerance, and Longwood selected the plant for further propagation in 1976. It was named and introduced in 1998, and registered with the Holly Society as HSA 9-98 by Tomasz Anisko for Longwood Gardens, Inc.2

Most Topel hollies perform best in warmer climates such as the southeastern U.S., but ‘Longwood Gold’ is has demonstrated long-term hardiness to at least Zone 6. It forms a narrow upright pyramid, perhaps ten feet tall and six feet wide in ten years, and is therefore suitable as a free-standing specimen or as part of a tall evergreen hedge. It flowers in May-June on new growth, and any male American holly will serve as a pollenizer to ensure a bountiful crop of golden yellow fruit. Those fruit are retained well into the winter and can be featured in holiday decorations, but are equally appreciated by hungry robins, bluebirds, and mockingbirds.
Once a hard-to-find connoisseur’s plant, ‘Longwood Gold’ has become more common in recent years, thanks in part to Longwood Gardens’ generosity in donating a large number of rooted cuttings to the Holly Society. Many of these were distributed to attendees of the Knoxville, Tennessee meeting in 2010. Today ‘Longwood Gold’ can be found in various specialty nurseries.

Please send nominations for Holly of the Year to: Holly of the Year Committee via email at hollyofyear@hollysocam.org or mail to Holly of the Year c/o Frank Shriver, 3200 Littlestown Pike, Westminster. MD 21158.

1 treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/ilex/ilex-forrestii, accessed 6 Jul 2021.
2 Holly Society Journal 16(3): 30 (1998)).

Ilex x attenuata ‘Longwood Gold’
Photo: Ilex x attenuata ‘Longwood Gold’ at University of Delaware Botanic Gardens, Newark, Delaware, January 9, 2015. (Jim Resch)