Sparkleberry, or no sparkle berries?

The Sparkleberry hollies (Ilex serrata x verticillata ‘Sparkleberry’, below) are bare. The leaves are supposed to be gone by now, but in most years the branches are cloaked with an abundance of red berries. Not this year.Sparkleberry holly

I blame environmental factors, though I’m guessing and really haven’t a clue why the berries are missing. The hollies were planted beside the tall spreading bamboo that was removed a few months ago, along with two tall hornbeams that died and were cut down. The bamboo had begun to grow into the hollies so that after it was removed much dead wood had to be pruned out, and though the area is still shaded it’s much brighter than before. I suppose this must effect a plant, and so this year there are no berries.

It could be that something happened to the hollies’ pollinator. I don’t recall if I planted a male along with the females, and one holly that was overwhelmed by the bamboo was removed completely, so that could have been the male. But, I’m kind of doubting that I planted a pollinator from the start. I usually tell people that there are enough in the wild and in neighborhood landscapes that a pollinator isn’t needed, so I probably didn’t plant one. I don’t know, so perhaps I’ll plant a male next year. The hollies are unremarkable without berries, so it would be nice to have them next year. Certainly the hollies will have adjusted to the change from shade to partial sun, so there should be more berries with more sun as long as there’s a pollinator.Nandina domestica in late November

Other hollies and nandinas have berried just fine, so there’s no apparent effect from heat or drought or any of the odd weather circumstances of the past year. As usual, the nandinas (Nandina domestica, above) are weighed down by large clusters of berries so that branches arch over the ponds and stone pathways. Birds resist eating the nandinas’ berries unless there is an extended cover of snow, so that late in the spring I typically cut off the browning berries. Until then the berries are quite attractive, and I’ve planted nandinas liberally.

Nandina domestica is often found on invasive plant lists, and here is another reason to question such lists. I’ve never seen a nandina seedling other than directly beneath the parent plant, and there’s a likelihood that these are from the nandina’s slowly spreading roots, rather than from seed. Birds rarely eat the berries, so seeds are not carried away unless they roll, or are picked up by rainwater. I would expect to see seedlings in other parts of the garden in either case, but I haven’t. There are plenty of seedling hellebores and hostas, Japanese maples and whatever else growing in the garden, so I take this as evidence that nandinas are not really invasive, at least in this area.Dogwood berries

Birds favor the red berries of the native dogwood (Cornus florida, above) so they rarely last for more than a few weeks. And, the juicy, strawberry sized fruits of Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa, below) are usually gone within days of ripening. I barely had time to see them earlier in the autumn before they were gone.The fruit of Chinese dogwood in August

The other hollies in the garden are berried just about how I expect them to be. Some are not quite red and ripe as I’d figure they should be at the start of December, but most are red and birds will steadily pluck these through the winter. There are a few handfuls of holly varieties in the garden, some with abundant berries and others somewhat fewer. The tall growing evergreen hollies are wonderful plants for screening or as single plantings, and they are at their peak in late autumn. In a few days I’ll be back to review a few of the best choices from my garden.Patriot holly in late November


3 thoughts on “Sparkleberry, or no sparkle berries?

  1. I have a sparkleberry holly and a male planted right next to it. They are both 2 years old and the female has an abundance of berries this year as it did last year. No pollination problems here in Herndon, VA. Question: how can I best cut off long enough branches of berries to put several in an indoor vase for the holiday without taking too much or harming the shrub?

    • No harm will come from pruning the Sparkleberry’s branches to bring indoors to enjoy the berries. The key is to select branches that do the least harm to the holly’s shape. Whichever branches are pruned will grow back quickly, and the form of Sparkleberry and other deciduous hollies is often very open, so they are usually improved by pruning to make a more compact shrub.

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