Yaupon Holly Plant Profile

Yaupon Holly Berries

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The yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is an evergreen shrub or small tree with green leaves and red berries that will add color to your garden throughout the year. Native to the southeastern U.S., yaupon holly is often planted as an informal hedge shrub or privacy screen since it requires minimal shaping and is available in several attractive slow-growing cultivars.

The glossy green leaves are oval, up to one inch long, and feature fine-toothed margins. The tooths on the margin may be pointed or rounded. Each plant produces little greenish-white male or female flowers in the spring, though only the females will bear fruit—small berries that are usually red but sometimes yellow. The berries work well to add winter interest and provide food for birds and other wildlife.

Botanical Name:  Ilex vomitoria
Common Names:  Youpon holly, yaupon, cassina
Plant Type:  Broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree
Mature Size:  10 to 30 feet tall, with 8 to 12-foot spread (shorter dwarf varieties are also available)
Sun Exposure:  Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type:  Sand (will tolerate other soil types)
Soil pH:  5.5 to 7; slightly acidic to slightly alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Greenish-white, followed by red berries
Hardiness Zones:  7 to 9 USDA
Native Area:  Southeastern U.S., Mexico

How to Grow Youpon Holly

Youpon holly is one of the more tolerant of the holly shrubs, doing well in a variety of soil types, moisture levels, pH levels, and sun exposures. Like other hollies, this species is dioecious (separate male and female plants), so you will need to plant a male pollinator in order for this shrub to flower and bear fruit. Once roots are well established, this is a good plant for drought conditions. Youpon holly is a rare shrub that transplants very easily and rarely succumbs to shock.

After planting, apply mulch at the base of the plant to keep the soil moist and cool. Light annual pruning is recommended if you are growing the plant as a hedge. Plants being trained as small trees require more diligent pruning.

Youpon holly is free of many problems plaguing other hollies, with good resistance to most diseases and pests. The shrubs have occasional issues with holly leaf miner, spider mites, whitefly, and scale. Potential diseases include leaf spot, leaf rot, tar spot, and powdery mildew.

Light

Youpon holly grows well in a full-sun to partial-shade location. It thrives best with plenty of sunlight.

Soil

This shrub prefers sandy soil, but does quite well in other soil textures, as well. It has a good tolerance for salty soils, making it a good choice for planting near the ocean.

Water

Water the root ball two or three times a week for the first year after planting, then weekly thereafter. Well established plants can tolerate some drought.

Temperature and Humidity

A native to the southeastern U.S., youpon holly prefers conditions common in that region—warm, relatively humid weather. It may struggle to be hardy in the northern end of its hardiness range.

Fertilizer

Feed lightly once a year in the spring, and avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers.

Propagating

Youpon holly is best propagated from small, semi-hardwood cuttings taken in fall.

Select small branches and sever the cutting just below a set of leaves. Remove the lower leaves, then coat the cut end with rooting hormone. Place the cutting in a mixture of perlite and coarse sand, and keep the cutting moist and warm until roots develop. After 8 to 10 weeks, you can transplant the cutting into a large pot filled with a loam/sand mix. It is sometimes allowed to continue growing in the pot for a full year before being transplanted into a permanent location in the landscape.

Pruning

This shrub is often left more or less unattended to form informal screens, but it can also be lightly pruned at regular intervals to keep it shaped as a hedge.

  • If growing it as a small tree, keep lower side branches pruned away.
  • Diseased or damaged branches should be cut away when they are spotted.
  • Badly overgrown shrubs can be rejuvenated by cutting away up to one-third of the branches. Cut selected stems down the base of the plant.
  • When shaping as a hedge, cut the ends of branches back to 1/4 inch above a node facing the direction you want the branch to grow.
  • Cut away suckers from the base of the plant as they appear, unless your goal is to encourage the shrub to grow into a thicket.

Landscape Uses

You can use this holly species to create informal hedges or privacy screens. Larger cultivars can be planted as small specimen trees. Bird lovers enjoy the fact that many bird species are drawn to the berries of yaupon holly, but be aware that the plants can be damaged by browsing from mammals, such as raccoons and deer.

Youpon holly was historically used for a variety of teas by Native Americans and has recently been rediscovered by a contemporary market. Several youpon teas (using the leaves, not the berries) are now available commercially.

Varieties of Youpon Holly

The native species is somewhat too fast-growing for landscape use, so most of the varieties planted are slower-growing cultivars, including:

  • Folsom Weeping: a weeping cultivar that grows 15 to 20 feet high with a spread of 10 to 15 feet
  • Nana/Compacta: a dwarf female clone usually remaining below 3 feet in height
  • Pride of Houston: another upward-growing female clone that grows 15 to 20 feet in height with a 10- to 15-foot spread
  • Schilling's Dwarf/Stokes Dwarf: a dwarf male clone with round habit growing 4 to 6 feet wide and tall
  • Will Flemming: a male clone featuring a columnar growth habit, growing 12 to 15 feet high with a spread of 2 to 3 feet

Toxicity of Youpon Holly

Like all hollies, the berries of youpon holly contain ilicin, a mildly toxic substance that is considered dangerous to children and animals if eaten in large quantities. Symptoms are listed as "nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stupor due to depression of the central nervous system." The berries are unpleasant to the taste, however, so they are rarely eaten in sufficient quantities to be harmful; no fatalities are reported. But you should take care when using holly branches as indoor holiday decorations, as the berries may fall off and be consumed by pets or children.