red berries of Yaupon holly plant native to southeastern united states

Yaupon holly. Photo: Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Updated: July 12, 2022

About Yaupon holly

Ilex vomitoria
Broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree
Holly family

Maryland Distribution: not native in the state; native to the southeastern United States
Height: 15 to 20 feet tall; the majority of readily-available cultivars mature smaller
Flowers: inconspicuous greenish-white flowers; fragrant but not showy; dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants); insect-pollinated
Fall color: no change; evergreen
Sun: full sun to shade
Soil: adaptable to a variety of soils, dry to wet; pH 3.5-6.5; tolerates salt

Garden Uses: Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is a broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree with a medium-fine texture (similar to boxwood and Japanese holly) and a medium-fast growth rate. This species has a loose and open habit, typically spreading as wide as it is tall. It is adaptable to a wide range of soil types and will grow in very dry or wet conditions in full sun to full shade.

dwarf form of yaupon holly - evergreen shrub with a mounded habit
Growth habit of Yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria 'Stokes Dwarf'. Photo: M. Talabac, UME

Yaupon holly is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are on separate plants. Pollinated female flowers produce small (less than a quarter-inch) red or orange berries (drupes) in the fall. The berries can persist into winter and provide food for birds. This plant spreads by suckers and will form a thicket in areas where it does not have competition from other plants. It tolerates pruning very well and is a good substitute for boxwood and Japanese holly. It is resistant to Phytophthora root rot and deer browsing and is tolerant of soil compaction, salt, and air pollution.

Many cultivars are available, including dwarf forms:

  • ‘Nana’ - compact male, up to 5 feet tall
  • ‘Stoke’s Dwarf’ / ‘Schillings’ - more compact than ‘Nana’, 3 to 4 feet tall, male
  • ‘Micron’ - 1 to 2 feet tall, probably male 
  • ‘Taylor’s Rudolf’ - 3 to 4 feet tall, female
  • ‘Pride of Houston’- 12 to 15 feet tall, female
yaupon holly dwarf form Nana - evergreen shrub looks like boxwood or Japanese holly
Yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria 'Nana'. Photo: M. Talabac, UME

Use for: hedges, screening, foundations, topiary, coastal gardens, pollinator gardens, or rain gardens.

Wildlife: The flower nectar supports butterflies and bees. This is a host plant for Henry's Elfin butterfly. Songbirds and small mammals eat the berries. 

References

Dirr, Michael. 1998. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses, Fifth Edition.

Dove, Tony and Ginger Woolridge. 2018. Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for the Eastern United States: The Guide to Creating a Sustainable Landscape. Watertown, MA.

Ilex vomitoria. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. NC State Extension. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ilex-vomitoria/

Compiled by: Christa Carignan, Horticulturist & Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center. 2022

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