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Hetz's Japanese Holly

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Japanese holly picture: 'Hetzii.' As the picture shows, Hetzii holly has black berries.

Ilex crenata 'Hetzii' has black berries.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Hetz's Japanese Holly:

The taxonomy of Hetz's Japanese holly is Ilex crenata 'Hetzii.' It is a female cultivar. The cultivar name 'Hetzii' is transformed into "Hetz" or "Hetz's" for use in the common plant name.

Plant Type Hetz's Japanese Holly:

Hetz's Japanese holly is an evergreen shrub. It is a broadleaved, rather than a needled evergreen.

Characteristics:

Ilex crenata 'Hetzii' has an upright habit and grows to be 3-6 feet tall at maturity (with a similar width). It is a slow-grower and is easily kept down to within the lower portion of that range with occasional pruning, if so desired. Not grown for its blossoms (which are small and white), it does nonetheless bloom in May. Flowers are succeeded by black berries (the horticulturally highbrow term is actually "drupes").

I like the fact that the relatively small leaves of Ilex crenata shrubs give them a fine texture, allowing for contrast with the coarser textures of many other shrubs. These little green leaves, incidentally, are convex (when viewed from above) and can be quite shiny.

Planting Zones:

Deriving from a species indigenous to eastern Asia, Hetz's Japanese holly generally can be grown in planting zones 5-8, although some are skeptical as to the bush's cold-hardiness throughout a zone-5 area. To improve your plant's prospects of enduring a winter in zone 5, apply mulch and/or furnish it with a microclimate, perhaps with the aid of a shrub shelter.

Sun and Soil Requirements:

I grow my shrub in full sunshine, but Ilex crenata is listed as a shade-tolerant bush. Regardless of the amount of light you give it, try to grow it in ground that drains well (although they are said to be plants that tolerates clayey soil). They prefer a soil pH that is acidic; otherwise, you may experience some yellowing of the leaves.

Uses for Hetz's Japanese Holly:

Use these shrubs in foundation plantings where an evergreen is called for. Being amenable to shearing (like boxwood), they are also suitable in hedges.

Care:

This is a good plant for low-maintenance landscaping, requiring relatively little care. But if you have your heart set on berries, you'll need to grow a male that will pollinate this female. Holly shrubs are dioecious. Consult my FAQ to learn how to tell a male holly shrub from a female.

Since Ilex crenata 'Hetzii' is specifically a female cultivar, you can't just go out and get a male Hetz to complement it. So you'll have to use a male of a different type of Ilex crenata. The following are examples of cultivars listed as male:

  • 'Bee Hive'
  • 'Hoogendorn'
  • 'Rotundifolia'

Although pollen can travel some distance, I would recommend planting one of these males close by to improve your chances of pollination.

Outstanding Features:

As with other evergreens, this shrub will add visual interest to the winter landscape, especially if the black berries are present.

Unlike Ilex aquifolium, Ilex crenata 'Hetzii' does not bear spines. This is a desirable trait if you're looking for a plant that's comfortable to be around (but this same quality excludes it if, instead, you're contemplating candidates for a security hedge).

How to Distinguish It From Boxwood Shrubs:

My initial interest in this plant stemmed from its resemblance to the boxwoods. I was annoyed by the fact that, when driving around the neighborhood and surveying people's landscaping (one of my favorite pastimes), I was unable to say definitively whether I was spotting a boxwood or a Hetz's Japanese holly. So it was time to grow the latter (since I was already growing boxwood), enabling me to experience it up-close and personal on a regular basis and become intimately acquainted with it.

Unfortunately, the two features that allow you to identify Hetz's Japanese holly (in contradistinction to boxwood) with the greatest certainty are not discernible from a distance. They are:

  1. Its serrated leaves
  2. The alternate pattern in which the leaves grow along the branches

A hint regarding the former is contained in the shrub's scientific plant name. Crenata is Latin for "toothed" and refers to the little teeth along the edges of the leaves (which boxwood lacks). And the boxwoods sport opposite, not alternate leaves.



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