Nellie Stevens Holly

Nellie Stevens Holly Living Fence


Why do I like the Nellie Stevens Holly …let me count the ways. The Nellie Stevens is denser than most upright pyramidal hollies. It responds well to pruning, creating additional lateral tip buds at each pruning cut.  Nellie Stevens hollies tolerate wet feet well. At our evergreen tree farm in Damascus, Maryland, the clay soils are often super saturated through the winter but the Nellie Stevens holly is able to grow in these conditions. We are not able to grown American holly in our soil types at Pryor’s Nursery due to root rot in the wet winter months.  Back in 1982 when working  on a job site in University Park , Maryland  I saw that the large, majestic American Hollies along the streets were heavily infested with leaf miners, an insect that drills inside the holly leaf, eating out the leaf veins. The city drove by with enormous spray trucks applying insecticide to save the trees. The surrounding air smelled so strongly of pesticide that I was forced to leave the job site, as it was probably not a good area to expose myself or my employees, to that massive volume of insecticide spray. 

Then I had an “Ah Ha!” moment. I can purchase land and start my own evergreen tree nursery, then I would not need to be exposed to such large volumes of chemicals. A big reason I chose the incredibly popular and fast growing Nellie Stevens Holly is that I don’t have to spray it for leaf miners, thereby making the trees eco-friendly.  They are hardy, strong and can grow up to 3 feet a year, depending on your growing zone. The Nellie Stevens Holly can be grown in sun or light to medium shade. It has gorgeous red berries in the fall and a nice green winter look. The picture below, taken in January of 2020, is of a row of 3 mature Hollies. The darker green holly in the middle is the Nellie Stevens Hollie. You can see the winter look of the American Holly, which are located on each side of the Nellie Stevens Holly.

American Hollies on the ends and Nellie Stevens Hollie in the middle, in January 2020.

Nellie R. is the result of a chance interspecific cross between the Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta) and English holly (I. aquifolium). Nellie R. Stevens, a schoolmarm, from Oxford, Md., took a few berries on a visit to the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C in the fall of 1900. but the plant was not known outside the family until 1952 when Nellie’s niece, Eunice Highley, decided it was time to remodel the garden. Eunice attended a meeting of the Talbot County Garden Club where the program just happened to be about hollies. Gus Van Lennep of nearby St. Michael, MD, the featured speaker, was invited to see the hollies and help to identify them. They realized they had a new kind of plant on their hands when neither Gus, nor the American Holly Society could identify them.

Maryland released the Nellie Stevens Holly to the public in 1954. In 2000, the annual meeting of the Holly Society met there at the house Nellie had originally planted them to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the seeds being planted.

The ILEX x ‘ Nellie R. Stevens ‘ has become a mainstay in landscape design. An excellent privacy screening evergreen choice for your living fence. Trimmed branches and the berries are also used frequently for holiday decorations. Check out our Website Gallery for photos of previous Nellie Stevens Hollie installations we have completed for customers.