Freeze Damage to Ilex cornuta Flowers

— Written By and last updated by Jami Hooper
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During the first week of April the Craven County office received a sample of Ilex cornuta or Chinese holly (possibly the cultivar ‘Dwarf Burford’) with some odd-looking brown structures along the twigs. These structures, of course, are flowers that were damaged in one of the early spring freeze events of 2022. According to Fred Galle’s authoritative reference Hollies:  The Genus Ilex,  Chinese holly is one of the first hollies to flower in the spring, and is often subject to damage from a late frost. The images below provide additional information on holly flowers and what to look for in assessing possible freeze damage.

At first glance, it might appear that some disease or insect pest has taken up residence on this Chinese holly twig. A closer look reveals damaged flowers and fruit.

Here’s a look at Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ on April 7. ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ is a female hybrid, and the flowers are pistillate, meaning there are no functional stamens. There are anthers, as seen in this image, but they are aborted and sterile. As a review, anthers are the pollen-bearing portion of the stamen.

In contrast to ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, here is a close up of a damaged Chinese holly flower showing what’s left of the developing fruit and one of the anthers.