Inside, we’re done decking the halls…but outside, boughs of holly are still hard at work. In a winter garden, evergreen hollies provide welcome color and structure. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), a tough native shrub, is one of the best hollies for warmer climates. This small-leaf holly, with bright scarlet fruit that persists through winter and glossy dark-green leaves, is as beautiful as it is adaptable. It tolerates heavy pruning, which means it’s perfect for a topiary. If left unpruned, however, it will form attractive wildlife-friendly thickets. Whether your garden has dry, wet, or salty soil, yaupon holly will go to work, and even when the holidays are over, the holly days will keep going.
Common name: Yaupon holly
Botanical name: Ilex vomitoria
Plant type: Broadleaf evergreen shrub
Zones: 7 to 9
Height: 15 to 20 feet
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average
• Moisture: Medium to moist
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil, but leave a few inches of space around the trunk.
• Pruning: Minimal pruning needed. Remove diseased, damaged, or crossing branches in spring. Remove suckers unless a thicket is desired. Can be pruned to a small tree.
• Fertilizer: Not needed.
• By seed or cuttings
Pests and diseases
• Vulnerable to root rot, powdery mildew, and leaf spot.
• Aphids, leaf miners, spider mites, or scale insects may cause problems.
• Yaupon holly is dioecious, meaning there are male trees and female trees. Plant female trees for the best displays of fruit, and plant a male for pollination.
• Yaupon holly sends up suckers. This trait works in your favor if you are trying to create a hedge, screen, or wildlife area. However, if you want a tidy specimen plant, think carefully about where to plant it. If it’s in the middle of your lawn, mow down the suckers when you mow the grass. If it is in a foundation planting or a garden bed, keep cutting back the suckers.
• The fruit is attractive to birds, but toxic to humans.
• Yaupon holly tolerates a range of conditions, from sandy dunes to forests to swamps.
• ‘Condeaux’ (Bordeaux) is a dwarf yaupon holly with reddish winter foliage. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall.
• ‘Nana’ is a dwarf cultivar that grows 3 to 5 feet tall.
• ‘Pendula’ is a weeping form that grows 20 to 30 feet tall.
• ‘Pride of Houston’ has an upright habit with heavy fruit production. Grows 12 to 15 feet tall.
All in the family
• There are more than 400 species—trees, shrubs, and climbers—in the genus Ilex. Some hollies are deciduous; some are evergreen. They’re found from tropical to temperate regions, and they’re cultivated for their glossy foliage and bright berries.
• Ilex vomitoria gets its unappetizing species name from its use as a ceremonial drink. Native American tribes used the leaves (which contain caffeine) to make a tea. Sometimes this tea was used to induce vomiting in a purification ritual.
Where to buy
• Sooner Plant Farm, Park Hill, OK, 918-453-0771, www.soonerplantfarm.com. (For ‘Nana’ and ‘Pride of Houston’)
• Weston Gardens, Fort Worth, TX, 817-572-0549, www.westongardens.com (For ‘Nana’)
• Willis Orchard Company, Berlin, GA, 866-586-6283, www.willisorchards.com (For species and ‘Pendula’)
• Wilson Bros Nursery, McDonough, GA, 770-954-9862, www.wilsonbrosnursery.com (For ‘Bordeaux’ and ‘Pendula’)
(Text and photo of Ilex vomitoria by Elizabeth Noll)