At an HSA Board of Trustees meeting in 2002, someone suggested that the Holly Society begin recommending a "holly of the year." It would be an ideal way to bring superlative hollies to the attention of the public and to introduce gardeners and nurserymen to the existance of the Holly Society of America. In naming the program, the board honored the late Gene Eisenbiess, a holly expert from the National Arboretum who had done so much over the years to help the Society.
The committee in charge of selecting the Gene Eisenbeiss Holly of the Year try to pick out hollies that are available at a wide range of nurseries, would be easy to grow, and would be hardy in a number of USDA Hardiness Zones.
'Scepter', the Gene Eisenbeiss Holly of the Year selection for 2009, was the result of a controlled cross of I. integra
'Hodginsii' made in 1960 by W. F. Kosar at the U.S. National Arboretum. In 1993, Gene Eisenbeiss made its final selection as a U.S. National Arboretum introduction and named and registered it
'Scepter' grows quickly and reaches a height of 20 ft (6 m) and width of 14 ft (4.2 m) in about fifteen years. It is pyramidal in shape and remains naturally compact without shearing. Its oval, dark green, nearly spineless leaves can be as large as 3 inches (8 cm) long and 1½ inches (4 cm) broad.
'Scepter' bears bright red berries profusely in clusters of two to ten, and the plant never fails to fruit if
a suitable pollinator is present. Male plants of I.
, I. cornuta
, I. latifolia
, I. integra
, I. pernyi
, and I. rugosa
as well as hybrids of these species will work as pollinators.
Hardiness for 'Scepter' is listed in Fred Galle’s Hollies, the Genus Ilex as USDA Hardiness Zone 7
, but a plant is known to be growing in Zone 6 on Cape Cod in Massachusetts with no winter problems. Cuttings of 'Scepter' root easily using semi-hardwood or hardwood tips.
'Scepter' is one of the finest hollies introduced by the National Arboretum and makes a fine addition to any garden. It would be particularly outstanding in a large border or used as an accent plant.