Plant Profile: Yaupon Holly (Ilex Vomitoria)

Yaupon Holly Berries
Photo credit John Dreyer / Getty Images

The yaupon holly 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.

Description

This plant can either be a shrub or small tree based on growing conditions and the cultivar chosen. Heights can be anywhere from 4 to 30 feet tall. The glossy green leaves are oval and up to 1 inch long, featuring fine-toothed margins. The tooths on the margin may be pointed or rounded.

Each plant produces little 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. The berries also, unfortunately, make this plant attractive for browsing by white-tailed deer.

Botanical Information

The yaupon holly is native to the southeastern U.S., USDA hardiness zones 7 to 9. The Latin name for this member of the Aquifoliaceae (holly) family is Ilex vomitoria. The word yaupon derives from a Catawban native American word for tree, while vomitoria refers to the use of this plant in Native American spiritual ceremonies that involved vomiting. European observers mistakenly believed that the plant caused the vomiting, but this was later disproven.

Several common names are associated with Ilex vomitoria, including aupon holly, yaupon, emetic holly, cassine, cassina, cassena, evergreen holly, evergreen cassena, Christmas berry, and Indian blackdrink.

Landscape Uses

You can use this holly species to create informal hedges, privacy screens, or topiaries. 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 are now available commercially.

Growing Youpon Holly

Youpon holly is best suited for USDA hardiness zones 7 to 9. It should be planted in acid or neutral pH soil, in a site that receives full sun to partial shade. It does best in sandy soils but will tolerate other soil textures, as well. Youpon holly has a high tolerance for salty soils, making it a good choice for planting near the ocean. Once the roots are established, it is a good drought-tolerant plant. After planting, apply mulch at the base of the plant, and water the root ball two or three times a week for the first year.

A single light feeding once a year in the spring is all that is required. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers. Light occasional pruning is recommended to keep them shaped. If growing it as a small tree, keep lower side branches pruned away.

Since these trees are dioecious, make sure to choose a female plant if you want berries.

Recommended Cultivars

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. It grows 12 to 15 feet high with a spread of 2 to 3 feet.

Problems

The yaupon does not usually face problems from diseases. Some that can strike include:

  • Cylindrocladium leaf spot (Cylindrocladium spp.)
  • Dieback
  • Leaf rots
  • Leaf spots
  • Phytophthora root rot
  • Powdery mildew
  • Sphaeropsis gall (Sphaeropsis tumefaciens)
  • Tar spot

Some pests that you may see include:

  • Aphids
  • Florida wax scale (Ceroplastes floridensis)
  • Holly leaf miner (Phytomyza ilicis)
  • Mites
  • Root knot nematodes
  • Tea scale (Fiorinia theae)

There is a possibility of suckers forming and causing new trees to grow where they are unwanted. Prune these to the ground two or three times a year.