Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’

ilex crenata sky pencilCommon name: ‘Sky Pencil’ Japanese holly
Botanical name: Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’

Virtues: Tall, skinny form makes it useful as a focal point in the garden. Great as an upright, evergreen accent in small gardens or tight spaces. Use two to flank an entryway, one as an accent, several in a line as a screen or several at intervals to lead the eye deeper into the landscape.

Foliage: Shiny dark green leaves.

Flowers/Fruits: Small white spring flowers; small black fall berries. Neither are conspicuous.

Habit: Fastigiate (columnar), multistemmed evergreen shrub to 10 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

Season: Year-round.

Origin: Introduced to the trade by the United States National Arboretum in 1992. This holly was first discovered in the wild on Mt. Daisen, Honshu Island, Japan, by Norihiro Shibamichi. While on exploration in Asia in 1985, Sylvester March of the USNA and Rick Darke (then with Longwood Gardens) received a donation of cuttings from Dr. Masato Yokoi. They propagated and trialed the plant over the next several years, then ‘Sky Pencil’ was released. Also marketed by Monrovia as Ilex crenata Sky Sentry.

Cultivation: Grow in sun or part shade. Prefers moist, slightly acidic soil with good drainage. Does not need to be pruned or trained to maintain its shape. USDA Zones 5–9.

Image courtesy of Monrovia. Credit: Doreen Wynja.

Small garden? See 400 Trees and Shrubs for Small Spaces.

Add vertical interest with a trellis or pillar.

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4 thoughts on “Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’

  1. I bought two of these last fall and they are just lovely on each side of a bay window. I love the suggestion of loading up annuals around them and plan to do just that. I’m also glad that someone said not to prune them, because where I got them, the nurseryman told me to prune them to height. I understand they get a max of 10 feet tall. Is that correct?

    • Yes, they generally top out at 10 feet. They grow very slowly. Probably your nurseryman meant that if they someday stand taller than you want, you could clip them back to the desired height. This species of holly responds very well to clipping (it is often used in bonsai). But pruning is not “mandatory” — I would just let them alone to slowly grow and frame your bay window. Sounds beautiful!!

  2. I use it often because you can easily grow annuals in the same pot. I load up the bottom with medium sized plants like annual blue salvia and some of the new bushing Wave© petunias–the flowing with supertunias by Proven Winners. Add some additional greenery in the form of ivy, grasses, or even a sculpture. It’s a very versatile plant and usually is offered in several sizes at garden centers.

    Anna Looper, Garden Blog Editor at

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