Back to Nature (Published on - Dec. 22, 2004)
Deck the Halls with Florida’s holly
Florida’s fortunate to have several native hollies to grace her landscape.

Dahoon Holly-Ilex cassine is native to Florida but for some reason it is often not chosen as the preferred holly to be used by landscapers. Surprising really, for it is really a beautiful plant with deep green leaves and bright red berries.

Dahoon is an evergreen shrub or small tree with rounded, dense crown and abundant, bright red berries. Best of all, the leaves of Dahoon Holly are not thorny like the commercial American Holly. Dahoon Holly grows from Virginia to Southern Florida to Texas. Check out

Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, also has beautiful red berries on evergreen leaves. Yaupon can be found as a large shrub or small tree. Yaupon is also native to Florida to Louisiana and Virginia. This holly grows upright to 25 feet. Yaupon has small, dark green leaves and the bark of the Yaupon Holly is grayish marked with whitish patches.

Yaupon is historically important because it is known that the Indians brewed a thick dark, high in caffeine, ceremonial tea called, “Black Drink” from this plant and this plant was held in high regard for trading. Only selected males were allowed to take this drink and only selected females were allowed to make it.

Myrtle-leaf Holly, Ilex myrtifolia Walter, found near swamps, lake margins, and low sandy areas along the coast of Louisiana to Virginia to Florida. This tree or small shrub has a dense crown of many crooked branches with leathery green evergreen elliptic leaves and bright red or yellow berries on the female trees.

American Holly, Ilex opaca, is the most commonly seen holly in our landscape and is the variety we most associate with the holiday season. It is emulated in plastic for wreaths and swags and can be found in most nurseries. It has adapted to grow in a wide range of environments from Massachusetts to Florida, west to Texas and Missouri.

My mother grew an American Holly in her Tennessee garden. It grew very tall, burst in color near Christmas with thick branches of berries. We used to fight over who would have to go out to cut the decorative branches of this prickly plant. I believe my father usually lost the battle. With gloved hands he would tenaciously tie bunches of branches together with red ribbons for decoration lasting throughout the holiday.

Dahoon, Yaupon and American hollies are commonly found near streams and damp earth but may also adapt well in sandy soils and well drained home gardens.

The berries of all these plants are eaten by wildlife, birds, bees and butterflies and are distributed widely in this manner.

There are pretenders such as Brazilian pepper tree, Schinus terebinthifolius, also known as Christmas berry tree. The Brazilian pepper is neither from Florida nor a holly, although it may appear to be with its dark green leaves and bright red berries. The Brazilian pepper tree is one of the most aggressive of the invasive nonindigenous plants in Florida, according to Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department.

Another absolutely striking plant is Coral ardisia Myrsinaceae. This plant has beautiful dark green serrated, glossy leaves. Under this canopy of leaves hangs clusters of bright coral red, luscious looking berries. This plant reseeds very easily. Coral ardisia is listed by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (a nongovernmental organization) as a Category 1 species, defined as an introduced species that is invading and disrupting native plant communities in Florida. In many areas, coral ardisia has become a significant pest. See

When planning your garden keep in mind the natural, native plants of Florida and beware of those attractive impostors that become invasive. There are many Web sites with a wealth of information on planting native varieties and in which you can visit your county Cooperative Extension Service to learn more about gardening naturally, back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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