Plant of the Week
Latin: Ilex x attenuata
Great landscape plants have a way of rising to the top in
the nursery world. For a plant to be truly great, it must be one that the
nurseryman can grow relatively quickly, and it must have good landscape
characteristics that make it a long-term success in the landscape.
The Foster holly certainly fits this description.
Foster holly is a chance hybrid that occurred between a narrow-leafed form
of the Dahoon Holly (I. cassine var. angustifolia) as the
female parent and American Holly (I. opaca) as the daddy in the
union. The trees grow 25 to 30 feet tall with a spread of 6 to 8 feet,
giving them a narrow, conical form. The bright evergreen leaves are 2 inches
long and elongated with one to three small, nonthreatening spines on each
side of the leaf margin near the tip.
The typical form seen in gardens is "Foster No. 2," a female clone that
produces an abundance of red, pea-sized fruit even on young plants. The male
pollinator of the Foster set is ‘Foster No. 4,’ but male American hollies
will also pollinate the female "No. 2."
The Foster hollies were selected by E. E. Foster of Foster Nursery,
Bessemer, Ala., and released in the 1940s. He selected five plants out of
his seed beds, giving them numbers one through five. Foster No. 2 is the
most important of the lot.
Walk into a Wal-Mart or any retail garden center today, and you have to
watch your step for fear of tripping over container-grown plants. But this
wasn’t always the case. In the pre-World War II days before container
growing -- a California innovation -- and interstate highways clogged with
18-wheelers, nurserymen were more self-reliant and most grew a high
percentage of the plants they sold.
In today’s cookie-cutter world where conformity seems to be a virtue, we see
similar kinds of plants produced throughout an entire region because they
are being grown by the large nurseries that fill the supply pipeline. All
aspiring nurserymen -- or curious gardeners for that matter -- should
maintain an area where they can grow some seedlings just in case they find
one of those gems in the rough that will ensure horticultural immortality.
Foster holly is an excellent plant for planting near an entry or off the
corner of the house to provide vertical accent. Like most plants with this
strikingly conical form, it can be grown as a free-standing specimen or
massed together. It also makes an excellent tall screen or can be sheared
into a hedge. If used in mass plantings, the length of the mass should be at
least one and a half times longer than the plants will be allowed to grow
tall to create visual harmony.
Like most hollies, Foster holly does best in a reasonably good garden soil
where it can receive some water during dry periods. The soil pH should be on
the acid side. While best in full sun, it will do well in medium shade.
Foster holly can be sheared as needed to keep it full or left to its own
devices. If plants ever get too large, they can be stubbed back severely in
the spring just before new growth starts and will regrow quickly to a
compact but smaller size.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension News -
November 24, 2000
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