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How to Grow West Indian Holly — Leea

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Leea–commonly called West Indian holly–is an open tropical shrub that becomes dense with age. It bears pinnate leaves 24 inches (60cm) long; each leaf consists of lance-shaped, slender-pointed toothed leaflets.

Leea is grown mainly for its foliage, but it does bear small tubular flowers. Flower buds are rounded and scarlet red; the flowers open pink with yellow anthers.

Leea can be grown in a shrub border or as a hedge in tropical regions. Where temperatures fall below 61°F (16°C), Leea is best grown as a houseplant.

Leea is a genus of 40 species of evergreen shrubs and small trees native to Africa and Madagascar. Only one species, Leea coccinea, is grown as a houseplant.

Get to know Leea 

  • Plant type:  Evergreen shrub
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 10-15
  • Hardiness:  Tender; grow Leea as a houseplant where temperatures drop below 61°F (16°C).
  • Temperature: Grow as a housplant in average room temperature and medium humidity. 
  • Height and width: Grows in a shrubby form to 5 to 8 feet (1.5-2.5m) tall and 3 to 5 feet (1-1.5m) wide.
  • Foliage: Woody stems bear dark green velvety leaves flushed red to bronze; leaves to 4 inches long. 
  • Flowers: Flower buds are deep red and open into rose red or pink flowers clusters. 
  • Bloom time:  Summer
  • Uses:  Houseplant, speciment in tropica regions
  • Common name: West Indian holly
  • Botanical name:  Leea
  • Family name:  Leeaceae
  • Origin:  Africa, Madagascar
Leaves of West Indian holly, Leea coccinea Rubra
Leaves of West Indian holly, Leea coccinea Rubra

Where to plant Leea 

  • Light outdoors: Plant Leea in partial or dappled shade.
  • Light indoors: Leea will thrive in bright light. 
  • Soil outdoors: Plant Leea in moderately fertile, moist, but well-drained soil.
  • Soil indoors: Use an all-purpose soil mix. 

When to plant Leea 

  • Set container-grown Leea outdoors  any time of the year in tropical or subtropical regions.

Planting and spacing Leea 

  • Space Leea 3 to 5 feet (1-1.5m) apart.

How to water and feed Leea  

  • Water: During the growing season water Leea freely. 
  • Feeding: apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly.

Leea care  

  •  Prune Leea hedges in spring.

Growing Leea as a houseplant

  • Leea needs bright light, average room temperature, and high humidity.
  • The soil should be kept slightly moist but not soggy.
  • Fertilizer can be applied once a month in spring or summer.

Leea pests and diseases  

  •  Leea is susceptible to mealybugs, nematodes, scale insects and spider mites. 

Leea propagation  

  • Sow seeds in spring.
  • Air layer in spring or early autumn.
  • Take semi-ripe cuttings in summer.

Leea varieties to grow  

  • Leea coccinea, West Indian holly. Open shrub grows 5 to 8 feet tall; often velvety leaves are flushed red to bronze when young; leaes are oval, pointed at the ends and have wavy edges; flower buds are deep red and open into rose red or pink cluseters. Cultivar ‘Rubra’ has metallic green leaves with maroon undersides..

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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