This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in the January 1952 issue of The Bermudian. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
Although the Bermuda Holly is now regarded as a naturalized plant it is a native of the south-eastern United States. It is recorded that the plant was introduced to these Islands in the eighteenth century from Virginia. The botanical name is Ilex Vomitoria. In some part of the central parishes, this Holly has covered large areas and is in great demand during the Christmas season for interior decoration. The glossy dark green leaves and the small red berries resemble the English Holly (Illex aquifolium) used for the same purpose in the more northern climates.
The Bermuda Holly is essentially a shrub rarely growing to more than ten feet tall. It is an evergreen plant with small leaves of a pleasing dark shade of glossy green, presenting a very neat compact appearance. The flowers are rather small, produced in clusters on the branches of the previous year’s growth in the early summer, followed by numerous berries. These berries turn red during the months of November and December when the plants are especially attractive.
Unfortunately, the Holly like many other berried shrubs has a biennial habit of bearing, but this is probably due to the removal of so much of the young wood during the year of a heavy crop of berries. The plant, having lost its flowering shoots, is compelled to assume this biennial cropping habit. Birds are usually very fond of Holly Berries, particularly in colder climates when food is scarce.
Evergreen plants are always in demand, especially in Bermuda, because the winter winds defoliate so many plants which are usually classified as an evergreen in other places. The Holly is quite hardy and retains its foliage in perfect condition the year-round. It is rather surprising to find that very little use of the Holly has been made in the majority of Bermuda gardens. The only gardens where it is used freely are on properties where the Holly has been found growing naturally. There is obviously a reason for this limitation and the reason may be related to the propagation difficulties which are experienced with Hollies generally. Holly seed usually takes two years to germinate, a fact which is not fully appreciated. The plant cannot be propagated by cuttings of slips like so many of the popular Bermuda plants, so the propagation of the Holly does present some difficulty. For the experienced nurseryman, the problem is comparatively easily overcome by the adoption of the proper technique in seed sowing, but here I will not delve into technical details but merely draw attention to the possibilities of the plant.
A noteworthy feature of the Bermuda Holly is that it is adaptable to continuous clipping and could, therefore, be used advantageously for formal hedges. Since it is a slow-growing subject, the amount of clipping required to keep it in its desired shape and size would be small compared with other plants. This is a very important point to consider today when labour is expensive and difficult to obtain. Naturally, this type of treatment would prevent the production of berries, but the chief purpose of a formal hedge is to provide an evergreen wall or boundary which is neat in appearance. There is a shortage in Bermuda of plants suitable for this function. The Holly then, thriving as it does in these soils, should be exploited fully to obtain the maximum benefits from a plant that obviously likes Bermuda.
It is of interest to record that various other names have been given to this plant, such as Cassena, Yaupon, Box and South Sea Tea. The label South Sea Tea may have been applied to the plant for the reason that there are two tropical species of Ilex which yield a kind of tea known as Yerba de Mate or Paraguay tea, frequently used in South America. There are no known records of the Bermuda Holly having been used for such a purpose.