Try growing: Native Holly (Alchornea ilicifolia)

Native Holly (Alchornea ilicifolia) is one of my very favourite local native plants. It has an absolute heap of potential, but is almost never used in horticulture. So I thought I'd rant about it a bit here!

By way of introduction, Native Holly is a rainforest shrub, bushy or somewhat sparse depending on conditions and how it is treated. It generally reaches around 2m high as an understorey species growing beneath rainforest trees or eucalypts, but can occasionally become a small tree itself, to around 4m high in ideal conditions. It is named for its slightly prickly leaves that look like those of European Holly bushes (Ilex sp.)
A hedge of Native Holly at Wollongong Botanic Garden. Here it is growing underneath eucalypt trees. Image by Emma Rooksby. 

The main challenge for me with this species is finding nice photographs of it doing well in cultivation! The above is about the best I could come up with. I know of quite a few in gardens, including my own, but they are all young plants and have not yet established a solid form, either hedge, shrub or tree. The plants at Wollongong Botanic Garden are the exception, and well worth a visit if you are down there near the Towri Centre. 


Native Holly leaves are quite distinctive, and not as prickly as they look! Image by Emma Rooksby. 
The new foliage of this species is one of its main features. It can be a vibrant purplish- or pinkish-red, as in the shot below. The flowers and fruit are nothing to write home about, and certainly don't match the bright red fruits of European Holly bushes, but they do attract a range of birds and arthropods/insects. 
New foliage, showing the distinctive bright colours this species can produce. This shot was taken in lowland subtropical rainforest in the Berkeley hills area, which is sadly now almost entirely denuded of its original forest. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Native Holly is outstandingly tough and can cope with most conditions around the Illawarra, though it prefers well-drained soils and somewhat shady conditions. Grown in full sun it will cope quite well, but the leaves may yellow a bit. Regular pruning helps to keep plants compact. 

One interesting feature of this plant I've discovered recently is that, although it is hard to propagate, new seedlings will pop up around the base of established plants. If you already have one Native Holly in your garden, this is a good way to get more!


A tiny young Native Holly. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Late addition: I should note that more comprehensive details about this plant and how to grow it will be included on the Growing Illawarra Natives website - when we launch it!!!

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