Plant of the Week: Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria)

By on November 5, 2010.

Ilex vomitoria:  More commonly known as yaupon holly, this southeast native is well adapted to all site conditions. It has a large habitat range with an even larger number of cultivars.

  • Size/Habit/Lifetime: A true utility player.  Evergreen, dioecious, generally upright shrub to small tree forming thickets when allowed. Natural varieties are to 25′ with fast growth rate. Cultivar varieties ‘Nana” and ‘Schillings’ are compact low growing shrubs.

  • Culture: Zone 7-10. Partial shade to full sun. Tolerant of very dry conditions as well as standing water and swamps. Extremely versatile in soils and tolerant of salt spray. Transplants successfully and very tough.
  • Leaf/Stem: Alternate, simple leaves 1/2- 1 1/2” long. Dark green and glossy above with lighter underside. New growth has purplish to red color. Leaf margins are crenate or scalloped at edges. Shape oval to elliptic. Stem grayish brown, texture medium-fine.
  • Flower/Fruit: Flowers greenish-white, four petals, born in stem axils mid-April or spring. Fruit is distinguishing feature, 1/4” translucent red drupe. Fruit ripening to spectacular color in fall and lasting to spring. Born on stems in prodigious  quantities.

‘Pedula’-Weeping variety

  • Use: Screens, hedges, specimens and mass mound plantings. Popular foundation planting with several forms.’ Pendula’ is a weeping variety to 20’. ‘Schillings’ and ‘Nana’ are sub shrubs and low growing. ‘Katherine’, ‘Wiggins’, and ‘Dodd’s Yellow’ are all yellow berried varieties. ‘Will Fleming’s’ is a popular columnar upright form.

  • Notable facts: Specific epithet vomitoria hints at its use as a purgative by native americans. Called the black drink, the leaves are known to have high caffeine content and can be coffee substitute similar to Yerba Mate Ilex paraguariensis.


James Wheeler is a student of Landscape Architecture at the University of Florida and a contributing writer to Landscape Invocation.

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