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Ilex verticillata - Virginia winterberry



The Virginia winterberry from North America is a deciduous relation of the familiar holly used by florists. This shrub varies in height from one to three metres, with a tight network of branches and dense foliage. The flowers are small and easily go unnoticed. The red berries are the best feature, remaining on the shrub far into the winter. Berries are formed only on female shrubs, but males are needed for pollination.

Virginia winterberry prefers moist to wet acid soil, and even thrives in standing water. It flowers and fruits best in sunshine but accepts deep shade. In North America the shrub is used in massed plantings beside water, for example, when the attractive berries enliven the waterscape. In Europe the species is rarely used though plants from good provenances thrive as far north as southern Finland. Mustila’s own collecting expeditions have brought seed to the Arboretum from the 1990s onwards.


Ilex rugosa - tsuru holly

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The tsuru holly is a very low plant with leathery leaves and large red berries. It grows naturally on Sakhalin Island in Russia’s Far East, as well as on the Kurile Islands and eight mountain tops in Japan. The higher up the mountains it grows, the lower this holly gets and the narrower its evergreen leaves become.

Adapted as it is to difficult conditions, this holly can be expected to thrive in Finland, especially where winter snow cover is guaranteed.

At Mustila it has grown successfully for several decades at the west end of Etelärinne (Southern Slope), and could be grown more generally.

The American Kathleen Meserve understood the value of tsuru holly when she started working on the breeding of winter-hardy hollies. By crossing the species with taller hollies a number of garden varieties have been produced which would be worth trying in Finland.


Ilex × meserveae - blue, or Meserve holly



The common or English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is an evergreen tree growing native in western Europe; since prehistoric times it has had a special significance for the Celts and Romans, among others. It has always been connected with Christmas since the plants’ magical properties were believed to be at their strongest around the winter solstice. Holly branches were used to decorate homes as they were believed to provide hiding places for fairies. The symbolism of the evergreen leaves was also associated with the celebration of Christmas, particularly in the English-speaking countries.

Common holly is not quite hardy in Finland. The blue or Meserve hollies (Ilex ×meserveae) are the nearest approach to the common holly which have the necessary hardiness, but the leaves are not quite as spiky as the common holly. The blue hollies are a group of low-growing hybrids between common holly and Tsuru (or prostrate) holly (Ilex rugosa), produced in the 1950s in New York. The first of these hybrids came onto the market in 1964 and have been followed by a succession of named varieties, most of them bearing the epithet ‘blue’, from the colouring of the leaves.

The best-known varieties in Finland are the male plant ’Blue Prince’ and the female ’Blue Princess’. They were planted at Mustila in the 1990s and have thrived in shady protected spots such as the Terassi (Terrace) and Maaherranpolku (Governor’s Path). If male and female plants are planted together, the female develops red berries which decorate it into late autumn.


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