Holly of the Year History...

At a trustees meeting in 2002 the idea for a holly of the year came up. The idea to bring the best hollies to the attention of the public and at the same time inform gardeners and nurserymen of the existence of the Holly Society seemed to be a good one.

By adding the name of the late Gene Eisenbeiss, “Mr. Holly” to the selection was to honor our good friend and holly expert who had done so much over the years to help the Holly Society.

The holly chosen that year was ‘Satyr Hill’ and would be used for 2003. The selections for the next 5 years were selected from voting done by the trustees at the next meeting.

We tried to choose hollies at least for the first group that would be available at a wide range of nurseries, would be easy to grow and would be hardy in a number of zones.

Ilex opaca ‘Satyr Hill’ was chosen for 2003. A fine American holly, it was selected and introduced by Stewart McLean. Mclean registered it in 1970.

‘Satyr Hill’ stands out among the many cultivars of Ilex opaca. The leaves are large and typical of American holly except that they are nearly flat. The fruit is large and bright red. Pollination is easily accomplished using an opaca male such as ‘Jersey Knight’ or ‘Baltimore Buzz’.

‘Satyr Hill’ is hardy well into zone 5.

The holly chosen for 2004 was Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’.

‘Sky Pencil’ is a female Japanese holly that was discovered on Mount Dai-sen in Honshu Japan. It was named by N. Shibamichi and first introduced to the United States in 1985. ‘Sky Pencil’ is a very popular plant in Japan and after 20 years it has become popular in our nurseries.

‘Sky Pencil’ has an unusual habit, growing ten times as tall as wide. It will be 8 to 10 feet tall and about 1 foot wide at maturity.

Zone 6 is the northern limit of its hardiness without protection.

The leaves are typical crenata leaves, rounded and dark green. The fruit is also typical, being black and not usually noticed.

‘Sky Pencil’ can be used as a highlight in the garden, as a narrow hedge or to line a walk or driveway.

In 2005 the outstanding koehneana holly ‘Lassie’ was chosen. Koehneana hollies are the hybrids of Ilex aquifolium and Ilex latifolia.

‘Lassie’ is a seedling discovered at McLean’s nursery in Towson, Maryland. It was named and registered by Stewart McLean in 1970.

Koehneana hollies are just now becoming popular. If ‘Lassie’ was known by nurserymen and landscapers I think that it would be the most popular holly sold today.

‘Lassie’ is fast growing giving the landscape an 8 foot tree in 10 to 12 years. The tree stays pleasingly pyramidal with a minimum of pruning.

The leaves of ‘Lassie’ are dark green and shiny measuring 4 inches long and 2 inches wide and are dark green. They have many small spines that are semi-sharp. The berries are large, bright red, and abundant. ‘Lassie’ never misses a large crop of fruit. The pollinator can be a Koehneana male such as ‘Cheiftan’, ‘Loch Raven’ or ‘Ajax’. Other males will pollinate if they bloom at the same time.

‘Lassie’ will survive to zone 6.

‘Sunny Foster’ was chosen for 2006. This holly is hardy only to the warmest parts of zone 6. It is an outstanding attenuata holly, a hybrid of Ilex cassine and Ilex opaca. The hybrid was first described by Willard Ashe of Walton County, Florida in 1924.

‘Sunny Foster’ is a leaf mutation of ‘Foster # 2’ that was discovered by William Kosar at the National Arboretum. It was named and registered by Gene Eisenbeiss in 1982.

The unusual foliage is narrow, about 1 3/4 inches long and 5/8ths of an inch wide. If grown in full sun the leaves are butter-yellow. The plant is a female that bears bright red berries that contrast nicely with the yellow leaves.

‘Sunny Foster’ is slow growing and makes a good highlight plant. It normally grows in a pyramidal shape but can be used as an unusual topiary. Sprigs can be cut for bright leaves in wreaths and other holiday arrangements.

For 2007 the selection is Ilex aquifolium ‘Lewis’. Of the many English hollies ‘Lewis’ is certainly one of the best. It is fast growing, Hardy well into zone 6 and a heavy bearing female.

The leaves are spiny and dark green. The fruit is large and bright red.

‘Lewis’ was discovered in the town of Delight, Maryland by Stewart McLean and introduced about 1967.

‘Lewis grows to a pyramidal shape. It can be pollinated by a male English holly or a hybrid that blooms at the same time.

A deciduous cultivar of Ilex verticillata, ‘Maryland Beauty’ was chosen for the Holly of the year in 2008. It was discovered as a seedling by C.L. Jenkins in 1930 and registered by Jenkins and Sons in 1970.

‘Maryland Beauty’ is a compact plant reaching a height of about 5 feet. The fruit are bright red, coloring early in September. Heavy, dependable fruiting makes it a good plant for commercial cutting.

‘Jim Dandy’ can be used as a pollinator.

The 2009 Holly of the Year honors Gene Eisenbeiss and one of his finest introductions, Ilex x ‘Scepter’. It is the result of a controlled cross of Ilex integra and Ilex altaclerensis ‘Hodginsii’.

‘Scepter’ grows quickly reaching a height of 20 feet in about 15 years. Although this holly is listed as pyramidal it stays quite narrow at about 4-5 feet. It is compact with dark green nearly spineless leaves.

The bright red berries are bourn profusely in clusters of 2 to 10 and the plant never fails to fruit if a suitable pollinator is present. Male plants of integra, altaclerensis, cornuta, meservae and hybrids of these and others that bloom at the same time will do as pollinators.

Cuttings of ’Scepter’root easily using hardwood or semi-hardwood Tips.

Hardiness is listed in “Hollies, the Genus Ilex as zone 7 but I have planted one I zone 6 with no winter problems.

‘Scepter’ is one of the finest hollies introduced by the National Arboretum.

Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, is the Holly of the Year for 2010.

‘Red Sprite’ was discovered in the wild near Hampden Nursery, Hampden Massachusetts by P.A. Siebaldi and registered by him in 1980.

‘Red Sprite’ is a dwarf, growing to only 3 or 4 feet tall, which makes it an ideal plant for a small garden. It is slow growing with dark green leaves and large red fruit.
Hardiness is listed as zone 4.

Ilex x 'Nellie R. Stevens' chosen for 2011 is a magnificent holly that matures into a large tree at about 20 to 30 feet. It is a hybrid of Ilex cornuta and Ilex aquifolium and has existed for more than 100 years. The cross was made at the National Arboretum and was registered in 1969 by G.A. Van Lennep.

The leaves of “Nellie” are dark green and very glossy, Long and spiny. The branches are pendulous and the fruit are orange-red and ripen quite late.

One of the most popular tree hollies sold on the East Coast, ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ is hard to zone 6b.

‘Proud Mary’, chosen Holly of the Year for 2012 is a stunning variegated holly that is fast growing and hardier than most English hollies. It is a variegated sport discovered by Kenneth McQuage in 1993 and registered in 1995.

The vivid red berries are highlighted by green and gold leaves that have few spines.
‘Proud Mary’ grows as a pyramidal tree and should be hardy into zone 6b

The Holly of the Year committee would like to invite members of the H.S.A. to nominate their favorite hollies to be holly of the year.

Send up to five (I know its hard to only nominate only 5) to Bill Cannon 2081 Main St., Brewster, MA. 02631 or send them by e-mail to

The hollies with the most nominations will get the nod for the next five years.



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