Wilderness Survival – Yaupon Holly

Some wild animals and birds eat the Yaupon Holly, but the berries cause vomiting in humans. The latin name is Ilex vomitoria.  Anything that has “vomit” in the name should be avoided.

The Yaupon Holly an evergreen shrub or small tree reaching 15 – 30 feet tall, with smooth, light gray bark and slender, hairy shoots. The leaves are alternate, ovate to elliptical with a rounded apex and crenate or coarsely serrated margin, about 2 inches long and about 1 inch across, glossy dark green above, slightly paler below. The flowers are 1/4 inch in diameter, with a white four-lobed corolla.

The picture below is of a Yaupon Holly bush in East Texas.  Notice the bright red berries.

Yaupon Holly in Southeast Texas

During the late fall and into the winter, the Yaupon Holly will sprout a bright red berry.  The fruit is a small round or red (occasionally yellow) drupe about 1/4 inch in diameter containing four seeds, which are dispersed by birds eating the fruit. The species may be distinguished from the similar Ilex cassine by its smaller leaves with a rounded, not acute apex.

The leaves can be dried and used to make a tea that was drank by the Aiys and Sequoyah North American Indian tribes, used to make the Black Drink.  When the leaves are used to make a tea, the tea has a high caffeine content.  When drank in excess, vomiting may occur.

The Yaupon Holly does not grow very large as it is more of a bush than a tree. During the late spring and into the early fall the plant will put on berries that turn a bright red color when ripe. However, the berries are not edible by people.

When planted in clusters, the Yaupon Holly can make a nice barrier tree. The branches split at the base of the bush, and as the plant ages, the branches can become as thick as someones forearm.