Holly of the Year 2020


Ilex opaca 'Dan Fenton'

Ilex opaca 'Dan Fenton'
Photo by Sue Hunter

Holly of the Year for 2020
Ilex opaca ‘Dan Fenton’

By Frank Shriver

The story of ‘Dan Fenton’ began in the early 1960s at Rutgers University, in the breeding program of Professor Elwin Orton. In search of American hollies with superior landscape qualities, he crossed the female ‘Maurice River’ with an unnamed male from Millville, New Jersey, and from the resulting seedlings selected one with exceptionally dark and glossy green leaves. After observing the original tree for twenty-six years, including eleven years of replicated trials, Orton was convinced of the plant’s unique qualities. The new holly was officially registered in 1987 (see Holly Society Journal 6(1): 31-32 (1988)), and released on the 40th anniversary of the Holly Society. The tree was named after Daniel G. Fenton, who had helped to establish the Holly Society and had served it in many capacities, including president and permanent trustee.

Despite its masculine-sounding name, ‘Dan Fenton’ is in fact a female clone, bearing dark red fruit which adds to its aesthetic appeal. These are likewise attractive to wildlife, including robins and bluebirds. As is typical for American hollies, ‘Dan Fenton’ can be grown in full sun to part shade, and in any good well-drained garden soil in zones 5-9. Gardeners can expect at least a foot of new growth a year, with the tree rapidly establishing an upright, broadly conical shape, and eventually reaching 20-30 feet in height. Pruning is generally unnecessary, but berry-laden sprigs and branches can be cut for holiday decorations without causing any harm to the tree.

The Holly of the Year is voted on by the Society’s membership traditionally each year at the annual meeting. Nominations are accepted and encouraged throughout the year. The ballot is made up of several of the hollies that best fit the Holly of the Year criteria of being suitable for a wide range of climatic conditions and zones, free of current patents and commercially available, and have a history that allow merits and weaknesses to have become evident. Choosing nominations for ballot will include ease of establishment, hardiness and disease resistance and beauty and suitability for landscape applications.

Please send nominations for Holly of the Year to: Holly of the Year Committee via email at hollyofyear@hollysocam.org or mail to Holly of the Year c/o Frank Shriver, 3200 Littlestown Pike, Westminster. MD 21158.