Gem Box® Inkberry Holly

Ilex glabra 'SMNIGAB17' (PP# 27,554)

Gem Box® Inkberry Holly

Ilex glabra 'SMNIGAB17' (PP# 27,554)


How are the heights measured?

All tree, and nothin' but the tree! We measure from the top of the soil to the top of the tree; the height of the container or the root system is never included in our measurements.

What is a gallon container?

Nursery containers come in a variety of different sizes, and old-school nursery slang has stuck. While the industry-standard terminology is to call the sizes "Gallon Containers", that doesn't exactly translate to the traditional liquid "gallon" size we think of. You'll find we carry young 1-gallons, up to more mature 7-gallons ranging anywhere from 6 inches to 6ft.

How does the delivery process work?

All of our orders ship via FedEx Ground! Once your order is placed online, our magic elves get right to work picking, staging, boxing and shipping your trees. Orders typically ship out within 2 business days. You will receive email notifications along the way on the progress of your order, as well as tracking information to track your plants all the way to their new home!

Why are some states excluded from shipping?

The short & sweet answer is: "United States Department of Agriculture Restrictions." Every state has their own unique USDA restrictions on which plants they allow to come into their state. While we wish we could serve everyone, it's for the safety of native species and helps prevent the spread of invasive disease & pests. We've gotta protect good ole' Mother Nature, after all.

About Me


The Gem Box® Inkberry Holly is a special form of the native inkberry, which grows quickly into a neat, round bush with small green leaves and a compact form. It can be clipped into formal balls and hedges and it makes an easy-to-grow substitute for boxwood. It grows well in warmer areas and wet soil, where boxwood often fails, and it has far fewer pests or diseases. Use it just as you would boxwood, for informal mounds or formal trimmed balls in beds or pots, or for hedges and edging. Small white flowers are produced in late spring, but no berries will form.

  • Neat, compact natural globe-shaped evergreen
  • Easy substitute for boxwood in many situations
  • Dense and bushy, and trims easily
  • Native plant for natural planting and native gardens
  • Grows well in wet soils

The Gem Box® Inkberry Holly grows well in both full sun and partial shade, with some direct sun each day. It grows best in moist, acidic soils, and it should not be planted in alkaline earth. It is happy in both sand and clay, and it will grow in wet ground as well. It will tolerate some dryness, but regular watering is appreciated. Pests and diseases are normally not seen on this easy and fast-growing bush. Trim in late winter for the neatest growth.

Plant Hardiness Zones 5-9
Mature Width 2-3
Mature Height 2-3
Sun Needs Full Sun, Partial Sun
Zones 5-9

Everyone loves boxwood plants, and those round balls of rich green are a desirable feature for any garden. But let’s face it, boxwood is not the easiest plant to grow. It doesn’t do so well in hot areas, and the pests and diseases are increasing all the time. Plus, many gardeners today want to grow native plants, not exotics like the boxwood, which came from Europe. We have the answer to all these issues, with the remarkable new Gem Box® Inkberry Holly. A unique selection of our native inkberry, this plant is round and compact, exactly like a boxwood, but it is very tough and reliable, growing well in hot zones where boxwood can fail, and being free of pests or diseases. Treat it exactly like boxwood, for low hedges or globes, and enjoy easy gardening with native plants, while keeping the classic look you want.

Growing the Gem Box® Inkberry Holly

Size and Appearance

The Gem Box Inkberry Holly is a compact, rounded evergreen shrub that grows between 2 and 3 feet tall and round. It has a natural compact, bushy form, and this can be emphasized by trimming, to create a very neat, formal look. The leaves are glossy, leathery and dark green, with none of the spines you might expect from a ‘holly’. They are small, neat, and oval, with smooth edges. They are barely 1½ inches long and less than ½ an inch wide. Regular trimming will make the leaves even smaller. Growth is relatively rapid, and 8 inches a year is normal, more than twice as fast as boxwoods. New leaves are tinted an attractive dark red, turning rich green as they mature.

In spring, clusters of small, ¼ inch white flowers grow along the stems, adding interest. These have the potential to develop into the black berries found on wild inkberry, but they need a suitable pollinator, and this is unlikely, so berries will not normally be seen on your plants.

Using the Gem Box® Inkberry Holly in Your Garden

Think ‘boxwood’ and that is how you can use this neat shrub in your garden. Grow it without trimming as an attractive, compact evergreen for any garden, including wild ones and in natural areas – it is a native plant, after all. With some trimming it can be grown into perfect spheres, or plant them 12 to 18 inches apart to make neat hedges up to 3 feet tall. Grow it in alone or in clusters in beds for calming green among colorful plants. Use it to edge your beds, or flank a pathway or gate. It can also be grown in pots and planters, just as you would a boxwood, as a pair beside a door, or around a terrace. Since it grows in wet soils it can be used around a stream or pond, where boxwood would not survive.


The Gem Box Inkberry Holly grows well from zone 5 south into zone 9, and it grows well in hot zones. It is probably hardy in zone 4 as well.

Sun Exposure and Soil Conditions

Grow this bush in full sun, which it tolerates well even in hot zones, or in partial shade. It is not quite as shade tolerant as boxwood, but it still does well with several hours in the shadows each day. It grows best in slightly acidic soils, and it is not tolerant of alkaline soil conditions. It grows in most soils, including wet soils, which is a useful trait in many gardens, where there are low-lying, wet areas. It will grow in both sand and clay, and it has some drought tolerance, but grows best with regular watering, in moist soil. If you are planting it in a container, use potting soil blended for acid-loving plants.

Maintenance and Pruning

The Gem Box Inkberry Holly is very tough and durable, and usually free of pests or diseases, much more so than boxwood. It can be trimmed at any time, from spring to fall. To keep your plants always neat and attractive, trim in late winter, before the new growth develops. Avoid trimming late in the season. Use sharp shears or a power trimmer. Apply evergreen fertilizer in spring shortly before new growth begins, for maximum development and the darkest foliage.

History and Origin of the Gem Box® Inkberry Holly

The Inkberry, Ilex glabra, is a native plant which grows all down the east coast, from Nova Scotia to Florida and west into Louisiana. It is usually found around swamps and bogs, or in woods. It has black berries which were used by Civil War soldiers as a substitute for ink for letters home.

Tim Wood is a plant breeder with Spring Meadow Nursery, in Grand Haven Michigan. In 2007 he collected seed from plants of an inkberry variety called ‘UMASS’. This is a plant with smaller than normal leaves, found by Dr Michael Dirr in 1991 on the grounds of the University of Massachusetts. The plant had been naturally pollinated by male inkberry plants growing nearby. Among the seedlings Tim Wood grew was one he selected in 2010 for its compact form, dense growth and small leaves. It was patented by the nursery in 2017 with the name ‘SMNIGAB17`. It has been released with the trademark name of Gem Box®, as one of their Proven Winners® outstanding plants.

Buying the Gem Box® Inkberry Holly at The Tree Center

If you have found boxwood difficult, it is time to try something easier, but just as effective. Word is getting out about the value of this great plant, and the demand is great. Order now and enjoy that ‘boxwood look’ without the troubles of the real thing.

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Gem Box® Inkberry Holly

Ilex glabra 'SMNIGAB17' (PP# 27,554)