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An evergreen shrub reaching a height of 6 ft, but as commonly seen usually 2 to 3 ft high. Stems spineless, but little branched, spreading by underground suckers; bark grey-brown, glabrous. Leaves 6 to 12 in. long, pinnate, consisting of five to nine leaflets, which are stalkless, or nearly so, of variable shape, but usually broadly and (except the terminal one) obliquely ovate, 11⁄2 to 31⁄2 in. long, glossy dark green, turning purplish in winter, the apex and margin set with slender, spiny teeth. Racemes erect, produced in a crowded group from just beneath the terminal bud, each 2 to 3 in. long, thickly set with golden yellow, slender-stalked flowers. The first flowers begin to open in February, or in mild seasons even earlier, but the great flowering time is April and May. Berries very abundant and ornamental, black, but covered with a fine violet-coloured bloom.
Native of western N. America from Vancouver Island southwards; introduced in 1823. For some time after that date it remained very expensive, costing as much as ten pounds per plant, but in 1837 the price had been reduced to five shillings. Prior to 1914 small plants could be obtained for thirty shillings per thousand. Few evergreen shrubs introduced from abroad have proved so valuable in British gardens as this. It is very hardy; I have seen it thriving on the bleak elevations of the Yorkshire wolds. For forming a low evergreen covering for the ground in moderately shaded positions, such as beneath deciduous trees, there is no evergreen so beautiful and so thriving as this. It is also admirable for planting as a groundwork for flowering shrubs that are leafless when in blossom, like the forsythias and Jasminum nudiflorum. It is not particular as to soil. Easily increased by seed, but an abundance of plants can be obtained by dividing the old plants in spring and planting the pieces on a gentle hot-bed.
Raised from seed it varies to a considerable extent, and names have been given to several varieties. The following appear to belong to M. aquifolium, without admixture of other species:
† cv. ‘Apollo’. – Of low, spreading growth, very free-flowering, with large trusses of orange-yellow flowers. Raised in Holland. It needs occasional light pruning.