Chinese holly, or Ilex cornuta, is one of those hollies that, like English or Common holly (Ilex aquifolium), is the parent of a vast number of off-spring. And yet for vigour and toughness, the species itself remains one of the most desirable hollies. This native of eastern China and Korea starts off as a slow-growing, rounded shrub that eventually becomes a small tree, with mature height reaching as much as 20 to 25 feet with a spread of 10 to 15 feet.

One of Chinese holly's most notable characteristics is its exceptionally, dense foliage, making it one of the most impenetrable hedges possible, impenetrable visually and physically. One of the other factors that makes it so formidable are the leaves. They're  evergreen and prickly like those of American Holly (Ilex opaca), but with a unique feature; the central spine points down, while the next two are reared up like horns, which explains why this holly is sometimes referred to as Horned holly. Most of the cultivars lack these horns but if you're interested in a high security hedge, then this is the best of all hollies. In addition to being thorny however, Chinese holly leaves are also quite beautiful, being glossy and very dark green; the perfect backdrop for the heavy crops of berries in winter. These fruit are larger than most other hollies and a bright scarlet. But hollies are dioecious (male and female are on separate plants) so it's important that pollinators be present for best fruit production. The yellowish-white flowers grow in dense clusters but are not particularly showy. The bark however is attractive being smooth and gray, like most hollies.

The foliage and berries make Chinese Holly a first-rate ornamental and the thorny, dense, evergreen foliage makes it a practical hedge or screen. And it will tolerate a wide variety of soils and grow in sun or shade, although it's not particularly drought tolerant. Chinese holly is also more heat tolerant than English holly and does extremely well across the southern half of the United States and Australia and New Zealand. It also grows in the UK but it is not as tolerant of cold as European hollies. The cultivars, especially Burfordii, are popular and easier to find but the species is likely only to be found in specialty plant nurseries.


Chinese  holly

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