Forever Emerald™ inkberry is a favorite among Arnold Arboretum staff due to its small stature and site adaptability.
Inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a tried-and-true landscaping shrub and North American native, growing from Nova Scotia south to Florida and west to Missouri. There are dozens of commercially available inkberry cultivars—popular for their winter color (‘Bronze’ and ‘Burgundy Wine’), large foliage (‘Dilatush’), habit (‘Green Billow’ is just 12 to 18 inches [0.3 to 0.5 meters] tall), and use as an evergreen foundation planting or hedge.
Ilex glabra ‘Peggy’s Cove’ was originally found growing in a Nova Scotia seaside barren, north of the fishing village of Peggy’s Cove. In October 1988, Arboretum Plant Propagator Jack Alexander was attending the Atlantic Rhododendron and Horticultural Society meeting and was out botanizing with several local members. Alexander has an affinity for hollies, and he noticed small inkberries along the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps miniaturized by generations of growing on the harsh shoreline. He hoped that this was the case and collected 38 cuttings from 12 inkberry plants along the rocky coast. Upon Alexander’s return to the Arboretum, cuttings were cataloged, provided with the accession number 929-88, and stuck inside a humidity tent using a plant hormone to initiate rooting. The following spring, Alexander noted that 19 cuttings successfully rooted. From this group, he selected the plant that had smallest leaves and was most compact. I. glabra ‘Peggy’s Cove’ was introduced by Alexander and former Putnam fellow Eric Hsu in the Holly Society Journal 18 years after the original collection. Alexander gifted professor and horticulturist Michael Dirr a plant in 2012, who in turn provided it to Griffith Propagation Nurseries in Georgia, where it is being sold as Forever Emerald™.
Forever Emerald™ inkberry has retained its small stature over the last three decade—it stands only 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall by 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide, significantly smaller than the species, which can grow up to 10 feet (3.0 meters) tall and the popular comparison ‘Compacta’ inkberry (at 7 feet [2.1 meters] tall in the Arboretum’s collection). Forever Emerald™ inkberry has a low-branched, rounded habit and has not displayed the leggy, bare basal branches that afflict ‘Compacta’ inkberry. Leaves are small and a lustrous dark green above with light green undersides. Forever Emerald™ inkberry has exhibited very little winter burning over the years.
Forever Emerald™ inkberry is a truly prolific bloomer—it bears copious, solitary white flowers in late spring, which are attractive to bees. Forever Emerald™ inkberry is female, and fruit is a shiny dark purple to black drupe that persists and provides additional winter interest. It is extremely adaptable in the landscape, performs best in full sun, and is well utilized in mass. Forever Emerald™ inkberry is an Alexander and Arboretum staff favorite, and as such, this beloved plant has made its way into many home gardens. It is being re-released through the Arnold Selects plant introduction program.
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About Our Collection
Jack Alexander was the Arboretum’s plant propagator for 40 years. He is also a lilac enthusiast and breeder, and introduced three lilac cultivars: ‘Foxey Lady’, ‘Purple Haze’, and ‘Lilac Sunday’, in honor of the Arboretum’s largest annual event, which falls on Mother’s Day.
Small, rooted cuttings of Ilex glabra ‘Peggy’s Cove’ were provided as guest party favors of Jack Alexander’s 2016 retirement gathering.
Folklore and customs surround hollies. In old English tradition is to place a holly twig on a beehive to wish these pollinators a happy holiday.
Ilex glabra forma leucocarpa is a white-fruited form of inkberry selected in Florida. The Arboretum has a mass planting near Walter Street Gate.
Ilex glabra ‘Peggy’s Cove’ is currently being sold as Forever Emerald™ by Griffith Propagation Nurseries, GA.
There are seven I. glabra ‘Peggy’s Cove’ from 2002, which were propagated from the original cutting. Three of them are sited along Meadow Road in Azalea Border. The remaining five were planted where Jack Alexander could keep a watchful eye on them—in the Dana Greenhouse landscape.
The youngest I. glabra ‘Peggy’s Cove’ in the Arboretum was grown from a 2007 cutting. It’s located in the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden.
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