NATIVE YAUPON HOLLY (Ilex vomitoria)


By Wendy Diaz EMGV

Last September, I wrote about receiving Platinum certification from the New Hope Audubon Society (NHAS) for a Bird Friendly yard, ( but I wanted to continue to enhance my yard by gradually replacing exotic species that remained with even more native plants. In October, this rewarding experience motivated me to remove the four large severely-pruned Burford hollies (Ilex cornuta ‘Burford’), which formed the foundation hedge along the front of the house. NHAS suggested native alternatives such as dwarf yaupon holly (Illex glabra) or sweet pepper bush (Clethra anifolia) to replace the old hedge. I chose and purchased three, 3 gallon Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’ or Dwarf Yaupon Holly, from my local nursery, to anchor this west facing 12 foot long front bed. I had plenty of space, after the old hollies were cut at their base, in front of the new shrubs to plant additional native plants such as herbaceous perennials like Coreopsis ‘Cosmic Eye’, Eastern Grey Goldenrod Solidago nemoralis and Bee Balm Monarda didyma and this increased the diversity of plants in my front bed.

Before: Burford Holly foundation hedge and nandina Photo taken September 10, 2020 After: Three newly planted Dwarf Yaupon Hollies in front bed. Photo taken February 8, 2021 by Wendy Diaz

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) Basics 

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria[1]is a broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree and a great landscape plant if you want to use natives and an evergreen.[2] Yaupon hollies are naturally adapted to the maritime forest of the North Carolina coastal plain and can grow on dunes[3] and in wet swamps and are more tolerant of heat than other hollies. They reach heights of 25 feet tall and form thickets and can be multi-trunked. 

Volunteer Yaupon Holly with upright irregularly branched habit in the natural buffer area of my backyard. Photo taken February 12, 2021 by Wendy Diaz

The species prefers acidic organically rich, well-drained soils with medium moisture in both full sun and part shade conditions. There are no serious insect or disease problems with this plant but heavily compacted wet soil should be avoided so not to stress the plant. The branches have smooth light gray bark but the young stems are burgundy. The alternate, thick leathery elliptical-shaped small evergreen leaves are 1 to 3 inches long with crenate or toothed leaf margins. The leaves contain caffeine. Native Americans dried and made a ceremonial emetic drink that when consumed in large quantities induced vomiting; hence the Latin name vomitoria applied to this species.[4]

Thick glossy deep green foliage of Yaupon Holly. Photo taken February 12, 2021 by Wendy Diaz
Burgundy color of new stem of Weeping Yaupon Holly. Photo taken February 13, 2021 by Wendy Diaz
Closeup of burgundy young stems and comparison to gray color of older stems of the Weeping Yaupon Holly. Photo taken February 13, 2021 by Wendy Diaz

Spring Flowers

Tiny fragrant white flowers appear in April and attract many bees. The Yaupon holly is dioecious and male and female flowers occur on separate plants. Only female yaupon hollies produce the attractive red berries (drupes) that form in the fall and last into the winter months. The light gray bark contrasts well with the red berries. 

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.

Wildlife Value

It is the host plant for the Henry’s Elfin Butterfly and the genus Ilex supports the specialized bee Colletes banksi3. Small mammals and birds eat the red berries. Birds also like to nest and shelter in the thick branches of my Weeping Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria f. ‘Pendula’). Our resident green anole hides in the thick branches of the plant too.


The different forms of the seven cultivars of this species can be used in a wide variety of areas in the garden landscape such as a hedge, foundation shrub, windbreak, and screen or specimen plant. All cultivars can be clipped and shaped and the plant is used for topiary and even Bonsai[5]. Weeping forms of the Yaupon holly make an ideal specimen tree (Ilex vomitoria f. ‘Pendula’)[6] that can grow 15 to 30 feet in height and 6 to 12 feet in width. It tends to get thick and twiggy and I frequently prune dead branches from the center of my Weeping Yaupon Holly.

Weeping Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘pendula’) Photo taken on February 13, 2021 by Wendy Diaz

Dwarf Yaupon Holly or Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’ is a dense compact rounded and mounded form. This dwarf cultivar of the species typically grows to 4 feet in height and has brittle, close-knit branches. It is slow growing cultivar and spreads wider (3 to 5 feet spread) than it grows tall. The leaves tend to be darker green on the top than beneath the plant and new leaves are a yellow-green color. The red berries (drupes) are not as common or as visible on this cultivar as in the ‘Pendula’ but they will occur if the flowers of the female plants are pollinated[7]. This cultivar has been used for Bonsai. Other cultivars comprise the Dwarf Yaupon Holly group such as Bordeaux, ‘Schillings’, ‘Taylor’s Rudolph’-female. The cultivar ‘Virginia Dare’ is taller and is used for hedges and also produces berries. “Will Fleming’ is a pencil-thin upright form. Photo of cylindrical hedge courtesy of Jim Robins from North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.

This evergreen plant has definite appeal during all four seasons in the garden landscape with fragrant flowers that attract pollinators in the spring, glossy green foliage in the summer, attractive red berries in the fall that attracts birds and evergreen foliage in the winter. If you need a shrub for a border, hedge, foundation plant or you just need a specimen tree consider a cultivar of Yaupon Holly. Choose the form you need for the space you have and it will improve the aesthetic value and ornamental interest in your garden landscape year round while also providing support for wildlife.