Possumhaw Tree

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Botanical Name:  Ilex decidua

Common Name:  Possumhaw Tree, Deciduous Holly, Possum Haw, Bearberry, Meadow Holly, Prairie Holly, Swamp Holly, Welk Holly, Winterberry

Description:  A large woodland shrub or small, multi-trunked or single-trunk tree, to 20′ tall x 6-10′ wide and stems to 8″ in diameter, with an irregular, open crown, and a horizontal branching habit. Leaves are simple, alternate, but sometimes hard to tell because the leaves are attached to short spur branchlets on the twigs. Leaves are 1.5″ to 3″ long and up to 1″ wide, obovate, with a few dull teeth along the leaf margin, especially the outer half. Leaf color is dark green and somewhat shiny on top, light green beneath, and deciduous, which differs from the other common hollies. Tiny white flowers bloom in the spring. Leaves turn yellow in fall before dropping. Sun to part shade is fine, but sun to part sun is for best fruiting. A round, orange or red drupe, 0.25″ in diameter, either single or 2 to 3 together, on a short stalk up to 0.5″ long; borne in the fall and persisting through the dormant season. Average growth rate of about 1-2′ per year. Moderate deer resistance. Great for rain gardens. Beautiful native tree that needs to be grown more. Drought tolerant. 

The trees I have in stock already have berries forming.

It is a host plant for Henry’s Elfin butterfly. Butterflies and other pollinators nectar at the blooms. Raccoons, other mammals, songbirds, and gamebirds, along with possums, eat the fruit of this and related species. Members of the genus Ilex support the following specialized bee: Colletes banksi.

Human ingestion of berries can cause minor toxic reaction. Ingestion may cause vomiting, diarrhea, or other illness. Poison garden addition!

This plant in 3-gallon containers is 3-4′ tall and 2-3′ wide.

Fun Fact:  Possumhaw gets the “haw” part of its name from the reddish fruits that can be mistaken for hawthorn fruits, and the “possum” part because they are a favorite food source for that peculiar animal.

Hardiness Zones 5 – 9



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