Botanical Name: Ilex decidua
Common Name: Possumhaw Holly Tree, Deciduous Holly, Possum Haw, Bearberry, Meadow Holly, Prairie Holly, Swamp Holly, Welk Holly, Winterberry
Description: This is another very nice Florida native shrub/small tree you should have in your garden.
A large woodland shrub or small multi-trunked or single-trunk tree, to 20′ tall x 6-10′ wide. It has 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. Grows in sun, part sun, or part shade. Fruiting will be better in more sun. 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. It’s dioecious; so make sure you have at least one male plant in the vicinity to produce berries on the females. Average growth rate of about 1-2′ per year. Moderate deer resistance. Great for rain gardens, but is also drought tolerant once established.
Can grow in clay, sand, or loamy soil with alkaline or acidic pH.
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!
Not salt tolerant of inundation by salty or brackish water. Low/no tolerance of salty wind or direct salt spray.
This plant in 3-gallon containers is 2-3′ tall.
This plant in 7-gallon containers is 3-5′ tall.
Plant Lore: 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.
Florida Hardiness Zones 8 – 9