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Holiday Holly- Oregon’s Story

Portland Monthly: Dig Deep

Holiday Holly: Oregon’s Story

A fir tree is a tree until becoming the family Christmas tree but Holly always evokes that feeling with its ready made holiday colors. Blame it on this tree’s unusual appearance; Bright clusters of jewel red berries held in striking contrast to spiky green leaves shining  with a floor wax finish There’s just no escaping it, holly brings instant recognition as the symbol of peace and joy during the holidays. And the rest of the country pays premium prices for Northwest greens growing right in our backyards.

There are two important reasons Oregon has been leading producer of cut holly for the last 50 years. Holly doesn’t grow well across the county, but in Portland, holly’s deep roots can be traced back a hundred years, along one man’s family tree.

Teufel Nursery and Landscaping is a power house in the garden business now, but holly put the business on the map. Open any Sunset Western Garden Book and you’ll find popular English Holly varieties named after the family who created them: Teufel’s Green, Teufel’s Silver Variegated, Teufel’s Zero and Teufel’s Deluxe. Every year, more than half a million pounds of cut holly is packed and shipped from the Teufel Holly Farm on SW Miller Road in Portland.

There are 400 species of holly worldwide. Referenced by its Latin name, Ilex aquifolium is the most plentiful English holly in the Northwest. Over the years, the Teufel family narrowed their market to just two varieties. Judged by beauty, longevity and ability to thrive in our climate Silver Variegated Holly and Teufel’s Green Hybrid are now the only Ilex greens the company grows.

More than a hundred years ago, this business grew from the ground up with twigs no longer than your fingers. In the late 1800’s only the wealthy could afford to import English holly from Britain. So, while pruning holly trees on Portland’s big estates German immigrant Gustav Teufel saved all the trimmings and grew these twigs into trees sold at affordable prices. His holly farm and shop are still open from Thanksgiving to Christmas and filled with holiday greens and wreaths for sale.

As you’d imagine, the fourth generation has seen more wreaths than there are holidays. Great grandson Larry Teufel runs the businesses today and started making wreaths as a 10 year old.  Right above the production line, grandmother Teufel handwriting is still there. In pencil, Lillian Teufel established the pay scale in 1940. Workers made 5 cents for every 12” wreath made. Now workers get a dollar to 4 dollars depending on the wreaths size and complexity.

The popularity of Teufel wreaths gained prominence a few years ago when the Holly Farm was featured on Martha Stewart Living television show. As a result, White House florists still buy this decoration to deck the halls of the Presidential palace.

Holly is so plentiful in Oregon; many people can harvest their own sprigs. Cut holly branches when the weather isn’t freezing cold and windy.  Look for shiny unblemished leaves and ripe, but firm red berries. Berries are highly perishable and spoil just as an apple or pear. Handle cut holly as gently as a flower arrangement in your home. Leaves will fall off in the first 7 days, if stems are not given fresh water, kept out of cold drafts or away from hot fireplaces. However, treating holly with a commercially available preservative will keep holly fresh twice as long (directions below.) Untreated holly should still be washed before use. Then, wipe the leaves with “Leaf Shine” spray (available at craft stores) when they begin to loose their luster.

Holly grows easily outdoors, too. When temperatures are well above freezing, an indoor potted holly tree can be planted outside with a few tricks. After Christmas, potted plants need to sit outside on a porch or under an eave to adjust to the weather.  Water regularly and allow holly to acclimatize for several weeks or a month. When planting, holly needs good well drained garden soil.  This can be achieved by mixing scoops of bagged compost with existing soil until it looks rich and hospitable.  The planting hole should be a few inches wider and deeper than the potted plant. Female holly trees will not produce berries without a male tree to pollinate the flowers.  So, you may need two trees if another isn’t growing as far as the bee flies.

That is the story about Ilex aquifolium becoming a staple of the Northwest Christmas. Indeed, the prickly but pretty holly tree made itself right at home in Oregon. Growing like a weed today, it was once affordable only to Portland’s elite. And to think it all started with a German immigrant who couldn’t stand to throw anything away.


Preserving Holly @ Home

Dip and Grow is liquid hormone solution available at most garden stores. A two ounce bottle usually sells for less than $8 dollars.  Wear gloves and use tongs to prevent splatters. These directions are suggested by OSU Extension Service.

Mix 10 drops of Dip and Grow in a gallon of water.  Cut holly branches and dip the entire branch in the solution. Don’t soak it, just dip it and drain it. Allow to air dry completely. Use in floral arrangements, wreaths, line fireplace mantel.