Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 869 Ilex 'Mary Nell'

Common Names: Mary Nell holly, Mary Nelle holly Family: Aquifoliaceae (holly Family)

'Mary Nell' holly
'Mary Nell' holly is shaped into a attractive hedge at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, a use for which it is well suited.


Mary Nell holly is a pyramidal evergreen shrub or small tree with very shiny dark olive green leaves. The leaves are 3-4 in (7.6-10.2 cm) long and have short spines along the margins. Mary Nell grows with a single stem and unless it is kept pruned, can get 10-20 ft (3.1-6.1 m) tall with a 10 ft (3.1 m) spread. Mary Nell holly is a female clone and she produces an abundance of vivid red berries that seem to grow in a spiral around the stems. The showy berries persist on the bush for an extended period in the fall and winter.

Ilex 'Mary Nell' is a selection made in 1981 by Tom Dodd, Jr. from a controlled cross made in 1962 at Tom Dodd Nurseries in Semmes, Alabama. The late Dr. Joe McDaniel, former Professor of Horticulture at the University of Illinois, crossed a lusterleaf holly (Ilex latifolia) with a holly that was itself a hybrid between Burford holly (I. cornuta 'Burfordii') and 'Red Delight' perny holly (I. pernyi 'Red Delight'). The selection was named for Dr. McDaniel's widow, Mary Nell. 'Mary Nell Sibling' is another selection from that same cross. It also is a female, but has smaller leaves with more marginal spines.


Ilex 'Mary Nell' was born in Alabama. All three of her parent hollies came originally from eastern Asia.


Mary Nell holly should be pruned aggressively to encourage a dense framework of branches. Light: Full sun, and probably partial shade as well. Moisture: Medium watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. Mary Nell may shiver and suffer in zone 6 winters. Propagation: Mary Nell holly is propagated from cuttings.


Mary Nell holly should be valuable in an evergreen shrub border, as an informal hedge or as a specimen alone or in a small group. It can be pruned to tree form or to shrub form.

Mary Nell holly foliage
Mary Nell's glossy green foliage


Mary Nell holly is a new cultivar and not yet well known, but this southern belle is quickly gaining popularity.

There are more than 400 species of hollies in the world. Most are evergreen, but some 30 species are deciduous. There are many hundreds of species and cultivars of hollies in cultivation. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a popular deciduous holly and inkberry (I. glabra) and the beautiful American holly (I. opaca) are popular evergreen hollies, all from the eastern United States. Visit the Holly Society of America for a sampling of the many beautiful hollies available to gardeners.

Steve Christman 11/24/00, 10/27/04

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Ilex species profiled on Floridata:

Ilex 'Mary Nell'

( Mary Nell holly, Mary Nelle holly )

Ilex cassine

( Dahoon holly )

Ilex crenata

( Japanese holly,box-leaved holly,boxleaf holly )

Ilex decidua

( possumhaw, possum haw )

Ilex glabra

( gallberry, inkberry, bitter gallberry, evergreen winterberry, inkberry holly, Appalachian tea )

Ilex myrtifolia

( myrtleleaf holly, myrtle holly, myrtle dahoon, myrtleleaf dahoon )

Ilex opaca

( American holly )

Ilex verticillata

( common winterberry, black alder, coralberry, Michigan holly )

Ilex vomitoria

( yaupon, yaupon holly )

Ilex x 'Nellie R. Stevens'

( Nellie Stevens holly )

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