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Yaupon Holly: One Tough Plant

Survival of the fittest is the primary rule in my garden. If a plant constantly gets sick or is infested with insects, it is quickly escorted out of the landscape.  One true workhorse in the garden is the yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). The yaupon holly is probably one the toughest and most reliable of plants.  Yaupon hollies are drought tolerant, when established, and relatively free of pests. Being an evergreen, this plant will also not freeze. It is considered very cold tolerant. Like all hollies, yaupons are dioecious. Basically, this means that there are both separate male and female plants. Female hollies produce red berries that many birds and wildlife depend on for forage. The bright red berries can be a favorite to robins, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, ducks, mourning doves, quail and wild turkeys. In our demonstration garden, it is not uncommon to see a bird’s nest in our large weeping yaupon holly. If you want a holly that has berries, make sure you buy one that has them when purchasing one. The flowers yaupons produce also attract many valuable pollinators. Pollinators such as native bees, European honey bees, beneficial wasps, flies, beetles and other insects gravitate towards this plant during the blooming period. Growing yaupon holly is easy. This is a plant that prefers full sun, but can tolerate light shade. Yaupon hollies will do well in alkaline soils and can easily thrive in soils made up of sand or clay. There are several cultivars for the homeowner to choose from. There exists a standard shrub form that can reach 15 to 20 feet. There are also dwarf cultivars such as ‘Nana’ and ‘Schelling’s Dwarf’ that reach a height of 3 feet. These compacted shrubs require little or if any pruning to maintain its shape. The one cultivar that I am most fond of is ‘Pendula’. This is a large weeping tree that can reach a height of 25 feet. The weeping nature of this magnificent specimen is truly remarkable and makes a nice focal point in the landscape. Yaupon holly can be found naturally in Sumter County; though wild yaupon is protected under a Florida statute. Historically, yaupon hollies were often used by native Americans such as the Seminoles and other southeastern tribes. Native Americans used this plant to make arrows out of the wood and used to make a “Black Drink” from its leaves in ceremonies.

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