Below is a Louisville Courier Journal article on deciduous holly that references Simpson Nursery.

Deciduous hollies add color to winter landscapes

From the Green Space section of The Louisville Courier Journal, Dec. 13, 2013
Ilex verticillata planting in full fruit at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens

Ilex verticillata plantings in full fruit at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens.

Written by Yew Dell Botanical Gardens

So many of us dread the arrival of the so-called gray season – the mostly leafless season in the garden, when bare branches huddle against the cold weather. Yet the winter garden offers much potential with colors and textures that can lift the spirits of the most SAD-affected Louisvillians.

Among the stars of the winter garden are the deciduous hollies. These species lose their leaves in the fall, but their berry crops are nothing short of stunning through much of the winter. These days they can be seen in landscapes throughout the Eastern United States with shining crops of mostly red (but occasionally orange and yellow) berries. But it wasn’t always that way

There are two primary species (and hybrids of the two) that make up the vast majority of deciduous holly plantings in the U.S.:

* Ilex verticillata (commonly known as winterberry holly) is found across the Northeastern portions of North America – usually growing in wetland locations. It is a medium shrub that grows about 6-10 feet tall with a similar or slightly greater sprad.

* Ilex decidua (imaginatively named Possomhaw) has a more southern distribution and grows in more upland conditions. It grows to be almost a small, multi-trunked tree with a coarser overall texture.

Both produce male and female flowers on separate plants – male plants required for pollen production and females producing the berries.

Now one might look at these plants – tough garden performers, beautiful winter fruit, easy to grow – and assume that they have been longtime favorites in the garden…but one would be wrong.

Only 30 years ago, both plant species were almost unheard of in the landscape trade, relegated to botanical garden collections and gardens of serious native-plant geeks. That is until a nearby nursery owner lifted the lid on these wonderful plants.

In the 1970s, Bob Simpson of Simpson Nursery (Vincennes, Ind.) recognized the landscape potential of these gems and started growing and promoting them throughout the industry.

He hit the market with his selection of Ilex verticillata named ‘Winter Red’, a form identified because of its extremely heavy crops of large, bright red fruits that lasted longer through the winter than was typical for the species. And what a selection it was. More than 30 years later, ‘Winter Red’ is still the best-selling deciduous holly cultivar across the country.

Since the introduction of ‘Winter Red’, the deciduous holly business has exploded. Now they are not only planted in naturalized plantings, subdivisions and commercial landscapes, the explosion of new cultivars has opened up a tremendous wholesale cut-stem market.

This time of year, you can walk into most florists and garden centers and find cut woody stems glowing in all shades of red, orange, gold and yellow. It’s even been rumored that an enterprising East Coast nurseryman gave his two high school-aged sons 10 acres and a trailer of rooted ‘Winter Red’ cuttings to develop their own business. A few years later, they both graduated, having paid for two bachelor’s degrees – in cash – all from selling cut holly stems.

Since then, the new variety mill has been busy. Hybrids of the two species have resulted in forms with longer-lasting fruit, larger fruit, dwarf forms…you name it. Splendid color forms, such as ‘Gold Finch’ (yellow, obviously) and ‘Winter Gold’ (orange, not so obviously) are still niche market plants but picking up steam fast.

And if you’re still not sold, now is the perfect opportunity to see them for yourself along Yew Dell’s Winter Wonder Wander – a short guided hike through the plant collections highlighting the best the winter landscape has to offer.

Yew Dell Botanical Gardens is at 6220 Old La Grange Road, Crestwood, Kentucky. More information: