Mary Nell Holly

Ilex hybrid 'Mary Nell'

Mary Nell Holly

Ilex hybrid 'Mary Nell'

This product is currently out of stock and unavailable.


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 Mary Nell Holly is a hybrid bush bred especially for hotter and drier areas, like the southeast. This impressive evergreen reaches 20 to 25 feet tall, with a broad pyramidal form. The leaves are large and oval, with an edging of spines, looking almost ruffled, and they are a rich, dark green all year round. They are a notable feature of this bush, and so is the huge crop of berries it produces. These cluster all along the branches, and they are large and bright red. Grow this tree as a lawn specimen, as screening, at the back of beds, or in woodlands.

  • Upright pyramidal evergreen with beautiful foliage
  • Large, rich green, oval leaves edged in spines
  • Massive clusters of bright red berries all along the branches
  • Very tough and reliable in the heat and drought of the southeast
  • Produces berries even in shade, and without a male tree

Plant your Mary Nell Holly in full sun or partial shade. It still produces berries when grown in shade, unlike most other hollies. It is very tolerant of drier soils when it is established, and it thrives in most soils that are well-drained. Pests, diseases and deer usually don’t bother it, and it can be trimmed or left to grow naturally, as you choose.

Plant Hardiness Zones 6-9
Mature Width 8-12
Mature Height 20-25
Sun Needs Full Sun, Partial Sun
Zones 6-9

Plant breeding is a hit and miss thing. Many attempts fail, and the results may not be even as good as the parent plants. But sometimes the magic happens, which is what keeps breeders going. The magic certainly happened with the Mary Nell Holly, a hybrid plant created back in the 1960s, but only available to gardeners since the 1980s. This bush is considered one of the very best for the heat of the southeast, and it thrives in conditions that other holly bushes simply can’t handle. It has gorgeous leaves that are large and striking, and they are a rich, dark green all year round. This bush just can’t stop producing berries, even in shadier spots, which is pretty unique for any holly bush, and when grown alone too. You will love its heavy crop of big berries, perfect for wreaths and holiday decoration. Combined with a near-perfect pyramidal habit, this is one holly that you can rely on, especially if you are in the southeast, but a bush of this quality deserves to be grown anywhere holly thrives.

Growing Mary Nell Holly

Size and Appearance

Mary Nell Holly is a large shrub or small tree, with an upright habit and dense branching. It naturally grows into a broad pyramidal shape, something than can be easily emphasized with some trimming. It grows at a moderate pace, passing 20 feet in height, with a spread of around 10 feet, and one day perhaps reaching 30 feet tall. The beautiful foliage is immediately eye-catching, and it is a major reason for the beauty and popularity of this holly bush. The leaves are large, elongated ovals, reaching 4 or 5 inches in length, with a glossy surface and a rich green color. This tough variety doesn’t turn yellow in the heat of summer or over the winter, and always looks perfect. The edges of the leaves are lined with a row of spines, and these make the leaves look even larger, and give them an almost tropical, ruffled look.

In spring clusters of greenish-white flowers open along the branches, and these are interesting, but not particularly showy. As they mature, they become small green berries, and by late fall these have ripened into large red berries that completely cover the stems in glory. A bush in winter is simply gorgeous. You can cut branches for vases, or to weave into wreaths. Holly has separate male and female trees, and generally a male tree is needed to give berries on a female tree. The Mary Nell Holly is an exception, and it will give a good crop even when grown alone. Adding any male tree with Chinese holly in it, like the male blue hollies, will give an even bigger crop.

Using Mary Nell Holly in Your Garden

This beautiful and striking holly bush is perfect as a specimen on a lawn, where it can be fully appreciated. It is also ideal at the back of shrub beds, or as a hedge or screen. If you have room around your home for a larger bush, perhaps against a blank wall, then use it in our foundation planting. Grow it along the edges of woodland areas, where the shade is light. You can prune it up into a more tree-like form or keep it with branches to the ground by trimming it to keep that pyramidal shape.


The Mary Nell Holly is hardy from zones 6 all the way into zone 9. We highly recommend it for the hot southeast, where it really thrives. Plant it in other areas too, because this versatile holly is tough, reliable and a real winner.

Sun Exposure and Soil Conditions

Full sun or partial shade – ideally in the afternoon – or overhead shade from deciduous trees is ideal. This is one of the very few hollies that still blooms and carries a good crop even when grown in shade – most others produce few berries unless they have almost continuous sunshine. The perfect soil is moist, well-drained and rich, but this is one holly that will grow well in most soils, and once established it is very heat and drought resistant.

Maintenance and Pruning

Your Mary Nell Holly will stay free of significant pests or diseases, and those leaves may be beautiful, but not to deer. Some pruning in summer, once you can see (and avoid) the berry clusters, will keep it extra neat and tidy, but it looks just as beautiful left to develop naturally, so don’t feel obliged to trim if you don’t feel like it.

History and Origin of Mary Nell Holly

The Mary Nell Holly is a complex hybrid holly that was created in 1962. It was developed by Joe McDaniels and Tom Dodds Jr., whose father had started Dodds Nursery in Semmes, Alabama back in the 1920s. Joe went on to become a professor of horticulture at the University of Illinois. Tom had some old stock at the back of the nursery, including a holly hybrid called ‘CB-10’ created by Henry Hohman, from Kingsville, Maryland. That plant was a cross between Ilex cornuta, the tough Japanese holly, ideal for hot states, and Ilex pernyi, a Chinese holly known for its neat, attractive foliage. Sadly, ‘CB-10’ didn’t produce a lot of berries, so Joe pollinated it with some pollen from the lusterleaf holly, Ilex latifolia. They collected the berries that developed, and planted them. One of the seedlings was very special, with massive berry crops from an early age, and that plant became ‘Mary Nell’, which was the name of Joe’s wife. It was registered and released in 1981, after 20 years of trials and observation that proved its worth.

Buying Mary Nell Holly at The Tree Center

Top of any list of hollies, Mary Nell Holly is an all-round winner, and a valuable addition to any garden. Because of its popularity the demand is high, so it is always in short supply, and we worked hard to find these lovely bushes. Our supply is limited, and it won’t last long, so order now – you are going to love this bush in your garden.

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Mary Nell Holly

Ilex hybrid 'Mary Nell'