ILEX vomitorial Aiton
By Thelma Glover
Yaupon holly is to Georgia gardeners what the little black dress is to women all over the world. It fits a multitude of situations and will go most anywhere. Dependable, adaptable, neat and attractive, yaupon holly is probably the most versatile native shrub available in the landscape trade in Georgia. Not only is the species adaptable to many situations but there is a cultivar of almost any size or shape to fit most any niche: from dwarf to weeping, compact, heavy fruiters, red berries, yellow berries, deep green, grey green, narrow, wide or fastigate. In addition, consider the fact that yaupon holly occupies a very unique position as an ornamental shrub in Georgia. There are only a few evergreen shrubs native to Georgia. Of those few only two are hardy throughout the whole state and are readily available in the nursery trade. Of those two only one had ornamental red berries and multi-seasonal interest -- Yaupon.
With all of this going for it, it hardly seems fair that someone stuck a name like Ilex vomitoria on it. Thank goodness the specific epitath vomitoria doesn’t in anyway relate to the shrub’s appearance or smell; it refers to the early use of the plant’s leaves by the Native Americans to make their end of winter ceremonial ‘black drink’ which purged their souls and bodies of any impurities. Since it is high in caffeine, early settlers in the coastal plain used the leaves as a substitute for tea . It has been and still is used abundantly as Christmas greenery. In fact, it is called Christmas berry by local people in the coastal plain.
It is found in the wild growing in maritime forest and sandhills in the coastal plain from southern Virginia to Florida, west into Texas, and north to Arkansas and Oklahoma. It can be found in cultivation throughout Georiga in home landscapes as well as commercial properties.
Description:Yaupon holly is an attractive multi-stemmed broadleaf evergreen shrub that averages l0-25’ in height and about l/2 less in spread. The habit is upright with an irregular outline. The branches are light gray covered with small leaves that are lustrous dark green, leathery with shallow toothed margins, elliptic to rounded with blunt tips. The greenish-white flowers are produced in axillary clusters in April and are pretty much inconspicuous. However, the scarlet red fruit appearing in the fall and persisting into spring more than compensates for this minor flaw. The over-all appearance of the shrub is light and airy, very picturesque. The grey stems and the burgundy color of the new emerging foliage help separate yaupon holly from the Asian Ilex crenata which is also found abundantly in the nursery trade.
Cultivation: If you plant it, it will grow. It is almost just that easy. It is neither insect or disease prone and stays attractive throughout the year. It does need a male pollinator in the neighborhood since the fruit is only produced on the female plants. It never needs pruning and little, if any, maintenance is required. Give it full sun, fertile soil and water and it will perform remarkably. Give it partial shade, poor soil, drought conditions and it will still perform remarkably. It is a fast vigorous grower and extremely dependable.
Propagation: Seed propagation of most hollies is difficult and slow. They require several stratification processes and can take several years to germinate. Consequently, stem cuttings is the usual method for propagating any holly. Make terminal stem cutting in early fall or late spring of yaupon holly , wound it and treat it with a rooting hormone and place it under mist, in a green house if possible, and rooting should take place within three weeks.
Garden use: Yaupon holly makes a good screen, hedge or specimen plant. Its small leaves and loose form give it a light, airy appearance making it fit nicely into small spaces or close to buildings or other structures where a big leaf, heavy looking shrub of the same size would be overwhelming. It can also be limbed up to expose its distinctive gray bark making a very handsome small tree. The weeping forms make interesting specimens and are most effective around water features. The dwarf forms are perfect foundation plants or massing plants. The fastigiate form makes a terrific entrance or accent plant and lends itself well for formal situations. It can also be used as a container plant. Yaupon is striking planted with the native deciduous hollies such as Ilex verticillata, Ilex decidua or Aronia brilliantissima. Combine it with Itea Fothergilla, red twigged dogwood and the big leaf Chinese hollies. It is especially attractive planted with laurels. Birds and deer love it so it is a perfect backyard wildlife habitat plant.
Woodlanders, Inc. Picadilly Farm Meadowbrook Nursery We-Du Natives 1128 Colleton Ave. 1971 Whippoorwill Road 2055 Polly Spout Road Aiken, SC 29801 Bishop, GA 30621 Marion, NC 28752 (803) 648-7522 (706) 769-6516 (828) 738-8300
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Grimm, W.C. 1966. Recognizing Native Shrubs. The Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, PA.
Jacobson, A.L. 1996. North American Landscape Trees. Ten Speed Press, Berkley, CA
Krochmal, Arnold and Connie Krochmal. 1984. A Field Guide To Medecinal Plants. Times Books, NY.