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Ilex decidua

Ilex decidua

Classification System: APG IV

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiosperms
Cladus: Eudicots
Cladus: Core eudicots
Cladus: Asterids
Cladus: Campanulids
Ordo: Aquifoliales

Familia: Aquifoliaceae
Genus: Ilex
Species: Ilex decidua
Varietas: I. d. var. mulleri

Ilex decidua Walter, 1788

Ilex aestivalis Lam.
Ilex curtissii (Fern.) Small
Ilex decidua var. curtissii Fernald
Ilex prinoides (Soland.)
Ilex prionites Willd.
Ilex tenuifolia Salisb.
Prinos deciduus (Walt.) DC.

Native distribution areas:
Ilex decidua

Continental: Northern America
Regional:Southeastern USA
USA (Alabama, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia)
Mexico (Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas)

References: Brummitt, R.K. 2001. TDWG – World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions, 2nd Edition

Walter, T. , 1788. Flora Caroliniana, secundum . . . 241.
USDA, ARS, Germplasm Resources Information Network. Ilex decidua in the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Accessed: 08-Apr-12.

Vernacular names
English: Possum-Haw Holly or Deciduous Holly

Ilex decidua (meadow holly, also called "possumhaw", "deciduous holly" or "swamp holly") is a species of holly native to the United States.

Leaves of Ilex decidua

This is an upright shrub or small tree that is typically between 10 and 15 feet at maturity though it may grow larger provided partial shade.[2][3] I. decidua grows many thin trunks and stems in a clumping fashion[3] If left un-managed it will develop a large spreading mound of foliage up to 30' in the wild. Bark is "light brown to gray" in color and may be smooth or "warty and roughened".[4] Slender twigs are glabrous and silvery gray, with numerous spur shoots, pointed lateral buds, and acuminate scales.[4]

Distinguishing features of this species are crenate leaf margins and fruiting pedicels that are 2–8 mm long.[5] Its "distinctive leaf shape... is less variable than other species of holly".[4] Leaves are obovate,[6] simple, alternating, and grow to 2.5-7.5 cm long.[4] Although the plant is deciduous, it's dark green leaves do not present any appreciable fall color change prior to dropping.[3]

From March to May small white flowers bloom among the leaves which produce small Drupe fruits ripening in early autumn.[3] Fruits are red (or rarely yellow), shiny, and globose (spherical, or nearly so), with a diameter of 4–8 mm.[5][4] Following leaf drop, fruits persist on the tree throughout the winter producing a showy winter sight against the bare branches.[3] While they have reached maturity by autumn, producing 3-5 seeds each,[4] it is not until the spring, after they've been exposed to freezing and thawing, that the bitter fruits become a favorite food source of many birds and mammals.[3][4]
Distribution and ecology
Drawing of Ilex decidua

Ilex decidua is a common plant,[5] 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.[7] It also grows in the northern Mexico states of Chihuahua and Coahuila.[8]

It prefers land in floodplains and the margins of swamps or lakes, and grows at elevations up to about 360 m.[5][4] It can often be found on limestone glades and bluffs, along streams in wet woods, and in lowland valleys, sloughs and swamps.[2] 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.).[9]

The fruits attract songbirds and small mammals.[6][10] Deer browse on young twigs.[4]
Cultivation and uses
Ilex decidua with red "berries"

The growth habit of I. decidua lends it to various ornamental and functional uses in its native regions.[2] The thick trunks and stems allow this plant to serve as an effective screen if desired.[3] The lower branches can also be removed to form a more tidy small tree with a tight head of foliage at the crown.[3] This plant can be used ornamentally as a shrub or small tree in varied landscape uses and is well suited to backyard gardens.[2][3] As possumhaw tolerates wet soil and is often found wild in wet woods, it is also an excellent candidate to stabilise stream beds or for the banks of water retention ponds.[2][3] Arborists may recommend this plant for parking lot buffer strips and islands, highway median strip plantings, or near decks and patios.[3]

Because of its attractive "berries", this tree is often used as a winter ornamental plant and branches may be collected for use as Christmas decorations.[4] The Audubon society specifically included I. decidua among their recommendations for bird-safe outdoor holiday decorations.[11]

Possumhaw wood is not considered to be commercially useful because of the tree's small size.[4]
Selected cultivars
Fruit bearing (Requires a pollinator)

Ilex decidua 'Byer's Golden'- Yellow Fruit[3]
Ilex decidua 'Council Fire'- persistent orange-red fruit well into the winter[3]

Ilex decidua 'Pendula'
Ilex decidua 'Pocahontas' - Vigorous growth with very glossy bright red fruit and broader leaves which defoliate earlier[12]
Ilex decidua 'Sentry' - Unique narrow columnar growth habit[12] averaging 20 feet[2] potentially well suited for planting in highway medians.[3]
Ilex decidua 'Sundance' - Average 7 feet height with orange-red fruits[2]
Ilex decidua 'Red Cascade' - Many large red fruits[2] which remain attractive until plant is again in full leaf[12]
Ilex decidua 'Warren's Red'- Glossy bright red fruit in such abundance that the branches are arched. Silvery bark and dark green leaves throughout much of the season[12][2]

Pollinators (No Fruit)

IIlex decidua 'Red Escort' - Unique male pollinator which resembles 'Warren's Red'[3][2][12]
Fruit bearing IIlex decidua cultivars can also be pollinated by any Ilex opaca pollinators


Stritch, L. (2018). "Ilex decidua". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T122927419A122927594. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-1.RLTS.T122927419A122927594.en. Retrieved 20 November 2021.
"Ilex decidua (Possumhaw, Possum-haw, Possum Haw Holly, Possumhaw Holly, Swamp Holly) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox". Retrieved 2021-08-08.
Gilman, Edward F. "ILEX DECIDUA 'BYERS GOLDEN' GOLDEN POSSUMHAW1". UF IFAS Extension. Retrieved 2021-08-08.
Brown, Claud L.; L. Katherine Kirkman (1990). Trees of Georgia and Adjacent States. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press. pp. 178–179. ISBN 0-88192-148-3.
Duncan, Wilbur H. and Marion B. Duncan (1988). Trees of the Southeastern United States. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press. pp. 304–305. ISBN 0-8203-1469-2.
"NPIN: Ilex decidua (Possumhaw)". Retrieved 2009-07-14.
"PLANTS Profile for Ilex decidua (possumhaw)". Natural Resources Conservation Service. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
"Ilex decidua". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 2009-07-14.
"FDEP Featured Plant: Florida Hollies". Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
Little, Elbert L. (1980). The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region. New York: Knopf. pp. 561–62. ISBN 0-394-50760-6.
Wallington, Natalie (4 Dec 2020). "How Bird-Friendly Are Your Holiday Decorations?". Audubon Magazine. Retrieved 8 August 2021.
"ILEX Decidua". Simpson Nursery Company. 2013-06-06. Retrieved 2021-08-08.

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