Why do I like the Nellie Stevens Holly …let me count the ways. The Nellie Stevens is denser than most upright pyramidal holly trees. It responds well to pruning, creating additional lateral tip buds at each pruning cut. Nellie Stevens hollies tolerate wet feet well. We have clay soil here on our evergreen tree farm, in Damascus, Maryland, which often is super saturated through the winter. However, the Nellie Stevens holly grows well in these conditions.
We are unable to grow the American holly in our clay soil type due to root rot in wet winter months. I saw, in 1982, the large majestic American Hollies along the streets in University Park, MD heavily infested with leaf miners. Leaf miners are insects that drill inside the holly leaf, eating out the leaf veins. The city drove by with enormous spray trucks applying insecticide to save the trees. I had to leave the jobsite, the surrounding air smelled so intensely of insecticide. It was not a good area to expose myself or my employees, to that massive volume of insecticide spray. I had an “Ah Ha!” moment!
I decided to start my own organic evergreen tree nursery. One of the fast growing evergreens I chose was, the incredibly popular and fast growing Nellie Stevens Holly. This was so I, my employees and customers do not have to spray insecticides for leaf miner control. They are eco-friendly, 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, 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.
Origin of the Nellie R. Stevens Holly
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. However, the plant was not known outside the family until 1952 when Nellie’s niece, Eunice Highley, decided 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 St. Michael, MD, was the featured program speaker, when Eunice invited him to see the hollies to help identify them. The group quickly realized, when neither Gus, nor the American Holly Society could identify them, they had a new species.
Maryland released the Nellie Stevens Holly to the public in 1954. In 2000, the annual meeting of the Holly Society met 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 since become a mainstay in landscape design. An excellent choice for privacy screening evergreen trees for your living fence. We have also used trimmed Holly branches and the berries for home decor and frequently for holiday decorations. Check out our Evergreen Gallery for photos of previous Nellie Stevens Holly installations we have completed for customers.