A holly tree to most people means spiny leaves and red berries, but the Nasa Holly is very different, and it will often bring out the ‘what is that?’ question. This handsome dwarf shrub has narrow, glossy leaves without spines, although the red berries in winter will probably give its true nature away. It is a handsome evergreen bush for a smaller garden or smaller area, or to use in planter boxes and pots. Nasa Holly is slow-growing, forming a narrow, upright pyramid that may eventually reach as much as 10 feet, but will usually be half that in height. Its narrow form makes it great for filling small corners, or to plant in partial shade among other evergreens. It always looks great, and the leaves keep their rich olive-green color all year round.
Growing the Nasa Holly
The Nasa Holly is a native American plant, not an alien species, so it is perfect for a natural garden, or for planting among existing trees and shrubs. It is a lovely addition to any garden, and it can be used to make a narrow hedge or edging. The foliage is evergreen, and the growth is dense, so it is ideal for a shorter screen or untrimmed hedge. In planters or around your home it can be pruned into rounded or conical shapes, making it useful for more formal setting too. For a hedge, space plants 2 feet apart, in a row. It is ideal for screening a wall or old fence, or for making a narrow barrier between different parts of your garden. It could also be used for screening on a patio or terrace, planted in containers along the edge.
The Nasa Holly is a small, pyramidal tree that grows slowly, with an attractive, dense form. It may eventually become large, reaching 10 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide, but it is more likely to be about 4 or 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The evergreen leaves are a deep olive-green, and narrow ovals, between 1 and 3 inches long. In spring small clusters of greenish-white flowers will be seen on older bushes, and these develop into bunches of bright red berries, on stalks, by late fall. The berries persist into the winter months, and besides being very attractive, they are a valuable winter food for local birds. Since holly bushes are separate male and female trees, a male tree is needed for good berry production. Any male plant of the American holly or the Dahoon holly is perfect. It may be that there are already holly bushes in your neighborhood that will do the job, but if you see flowers but no fruit, plant a male tree nearby.
The Nasa Holly grows well in full sun or in partially-shades areas, particularly in filtered sunlight through deciduous trees, as well as along the north-side of a wall or fence. It grows in any well-drained soil, including sandy soils. It does thrive best in moist, slightly acidic soils, but this is a tolerant and hardy plant that grows easily almost anywhere. The foliage is resistant to salt-spray, so combined with its tolerance of sandy soil, this is a great choice for a beach cottage garden. It is a great garden choice in zones 7, 8, and 9, and it will also grow well in zone 6, in a sheltered place. As well as its salt tolerance, deer and rabbits usually leave this bush alone, and it grows even in urban areas with lots of paved surfaces around it.
History and Origins of the Nasa Holly
The European Holly, Ilex aquifolium, dominates our thinking about what a holly should be, but in America, especially in the southern states, there are many species of hollies that are well-adapted to the climate, growing well in heat and humidity that northern hollies can’t tolerate. Growing wild from Cape Cod to northern Florida, and all around the Gulf into Texas, we find Ilex opaca, the American Holly, with spiny leaves and red berries. It is both more heat tolerant and cold tolerant than its European cousin, with many of the same beautiful features, and it is a great garden plant for specimens or hedges.
Growing throughout Florida, along the Gulf coast and up into the Carolinas we find a very different tree, the Dahoon, Ilex cassine. This tree has narrower leaves, with very few spines. Where these two plants grow together, they sometimes naturally pollinate each other, creating a hybrid plant called Ilex x attenuata. This tree shares characteristics of both plants, plus, it shows the increased vigor and toughness that most hybrid plants have.
Dodd & Dodd Nurseries, in Semmes, Alabama, was founded by Tom Dodd Sr. in the 1920s. With his son, Tom Dodd Jr., the nursery specialized in native plants, including American hollies. They developed numerous hybrids and selections of native hollies and other plants. In the 1970s, while exploring part of the John C. Stennis Space Center, a NASA rocket testing facility, located in Hancock County, Mississippi, the senior Dodd discovered an interesting dwarf plant of Ilex x attenuata growing wild. He propagated it, and this became the Nasa Holly. Although it has remained rare, this plant is a great garden addition, and we have sourced some beautiful young plants, carefully and patiently grown for us. They are produced from stem pieces traceable back to Mr. Dodd’s original find, and they all have its compact habit and beautiful foliage. The demand for unusual hollies is high, especially from gardeners who like interesting plants that are low-maintenance. Order your Nasa Holly bushes today, while our limited stock remains available.