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Possum Haw Ilex decidua


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Possum Haw, showing fruit
credit: Jeff McMillan, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 488.

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Alternate name: Deciduous Holly

Family: Aquifoliaceae, Holly view all from this family

Description Also called meadow holly, deciduous holly, or swamp holly, Ilex decidua is a common plant, growing in the US in Alabama, Arkansas, Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. It also grows in the northern Mexico states of Chihuahua and Coahuila.

Distinguishing features of this species are crenate leaf margins and fruiting pedicels that are 2–8 mm long. Its "distinctive leaf shape... is less variable than other species of holly". Leaves are obovate, simple, alternating, deciduous, and grow to 2.5-7.5 cm long.

Drupe fruits are red (or rarely yellow), shiny, and globose (spherical, or nearly so), with a diameter of 4–8 mm. The pulp is bitter; they contain 3-5 seeds and mature in autumn.

Slender twigs are glabrous and silvery gray, with "numerous spur shoots", pointed lateral buds, and acuminate scales.

Bark is "light brown to gray" in color and may be smooth or "warty and roughened".

It prefers land in floodplains and the margins of swamps or lakes, and grows at elevations up to about 360 m. Other plant species with which possumhaw is associated include water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), overcup oak (Quercus lyrata), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) and hackberry (Celtis spp.).

Warning All Ilex species may be somewhat toxic if ingested. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Habitat Scrub, shrub & brushlands, Watersides (fresh).

Range Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Florida, Great Lakes, Plains, Texas.

Comments You must have both a male and female plant to have berries. The male must be the same species as the female and bloom at the same time. Because hollies are such popular landscape plants, it may be worth the risk to plant a female and hope there is a male nearby. The tree will need at least six hours of sun to be covered with berries. Better adapted to alkaline soils than I. verticillata.

Exposure Preference Partial sun.

Flower March - May

Native Distribution Virginia to s. Illinois & s. Missouri, s. to Florida Panhandle & c. Texas

Site Preference Low, wet woods; coastal plains; river bottoms

Soil Preference Moist sands, loams or clays.

Wildlife Value Berries attract songbirds.