Possum-haw holly is a beautiful shrub

Published 7:18 pm Friday, December 1, 2017

Each year in November and December I get a flurry of phone calls and plant samples left on my desk. Consumers and gardeners want to know, “What is that beautiful yaupon-like plant without any leaves?”

Possum-haw holly — or Ilex decidua — attracts so much attention because of its spectacular and unique presentation of red, orange or yellow fruit. The berries become visible when the foliage drops in November or early December. The berries usually remain all winter unless they are eaten by flocks of cedar waxwings or the other nine species of birds known to feed on Possum-haw fruit.

Possum-haw hollies are useful in the landscape as large shrubs or small trees, and may occur with single or multiple trunks. Female plants are preferred, since male selections are fruitless and provide little ornamental value.

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Culture is easy. Possum-haws are native to Mississippi and grow in a wide variety of soil and moisture conditions. They tolerate poor drainage quite well, but will thrive under fairly dry situations.

Availability is getting better, but there will be some difficulty in locating nursery-grown plants. Some nurseries are now growing female selections from cuttings, which assures the fruit color and sex of the plant.

Seeds are easily propagated, but this often results in a high percentage of male plants. Determining their gender is not practical until plants are old enough to flower, which may be 2 to 4 years.

If collecting specimens from their native habitat, two things should be kept in mind. First, select a plant with at least a few berries; second, choose a small plant. Possum-haws grow quickly once established.

Ilex decidua is a beautiful native plant that should be considered for your winter landscape.

Rebecca Bates is an MSU Extension-Lincoln County agent, and can be reached at 601-835-3460 or by e-mail at rebecca.bates@msstate.edu.