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. 









Learn With Us, February 2021

Durham Garden Forum: “Reptiles & Amphibians in Your Garden” – February 16, 2021, 7:00 – 8:30 PM, via Zoom. Register in advance for this meeting. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

KISS THE GROUND movie – March 1-4
With support from the Kiss the Ground organization, the film will be available through Duke Gardens for 72 hours, followed by the discussion session listed below.

People are calling KISS THE GROUND “The Most Important Film You’ll Ever Watch” — which is a really big claim. But it just may be true. Kiss the Ground is an inspiring and groundbreaking film that reveals the first viable solution to our climate crisis.

Kiss the Ground reveals that, by regenerating the world’s soils, we can completely and rapidly stabilize Earth’s climate, restore lost ecosystems and create abundant food supplies. Using compelling graphics and visuals, along with striking NASA and NOAA footage, the film artfully illustrates how, by drawing down atmospheric carbon, soil is the missing piece of the climate puzzle. This movie is positioned to catalyze a movement to accomplish the impossible – to solve humanity’s greatest challenge, to balance the climate and secure our species future.

Kiss the Ground is committed to their mission of awakening people to the possibilities of regeneration, to providing everyone with the pathways to find their unique way forward and the resources to do so. Beyond the film they have published a book, offer stewardship training and resources to farmers and other land stewards and connect people to share knowledge, funding and resources.
Duke Gardens is working with the team at KISS THE GROUND to make the film available to you for a 72-hour period – watch at your own convenience with the link sent on March 1. Then register for the discussion session on March 4 to hear directly from KISS THE GROUND team members and Duke University faculty and staff.
Monday through Thursday, March 1 to 4, watch at your convenience.
Fee: Free to all with registration. (link below)

KISS THE GROUND panel discussion – March 4, 7PM
Online with Kiss the Ground Team Members, Dan Richter, Professor of Soils and Forest Ecology, Duke University and Annabel Renwick, curator The Blomquist Garden of Native plants. Moderated by Kavanah Anderson, Education Program Coordinator.
Each of us has had the opportunity to watch this amazing film and now, to join a panel discussion and Q&A session with members of KISS THE GROUND and Faculty/staff from Duke University. The film, KISS THE GROUND, introduces proven strategies to reverse global warming and presents the research, practice, and hope we need to move forward. Together. The discussion will focus on the relationship between human health, soil health, and planetary health and what each of us can do in our daily lives to nurture a healthy world for future generations.
Fee: Free to all with registration. REGISTRATION LINK:

Bull City Gardener series: The two identical March LIVE workshops, “All About Briggs Ave. Community Garden and Intro to Grafting” will take place on 3/16/21 and 3/21/21. More information and how to register are here:

Small Fruit Workshops – Dates, times, course descriptions, and how to register are here:

Programming from Sarah P. Duke Gardens: Duke Gardens Winter 2021 Adult Programs – Browse program listings

Events at JC Raulston Arboretum (many are online):

Follow this link to learn about several NC Cooperative Extension webinars in February that may be of interest to gardeners:

Photo Essay: Eastern Bluebirds in the Garden

By Girish Bhatt, EMGV

It’s the time of year again – the birds (and many other animals!) in our gardens are becoming much more active as they get ready to pair up and begin nesting. Durham County Extension Master Gardener Girish Bhatt took these photos last year of a pair of Eastern Bluebirds in his garden, and is excited to see who shows up this year!

The typical question when the kids leave home: but who’s going to clean up this mess! (While the birds can do part of it on their own, it’s always helpful to clear things out between seasons to give them a fresh start next year[3].

[1] All About Birds: Eastern Bluebird –

[2] Nature’s Best Hope presentation by Dr. Doug Tallamy –

[3] Eastern Bluebird Nest Box Plan and Information –

February: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, there you have it—our annual snow.  Came and went in the same day.  Mother Nature put it here and she took it away.  Perfect.  Way better than the experiences of my youth in upstate New York.  So, now we can have Spring, right?  No??  Oh.  The seeds you ordered from the catalogue haven’t  A) arrived, B) sprouted, C) grown to transplant size, D) all of the above?  Pick one?  Unfortunately, the deadline for this is before February 2, so I am unable to say how much longer winter will last.  The prematurely plucked from hibernation prognosticator has not yet “spoken.”  However, it is supposed to be sunny on Tuesday.  Draw your own conclusion.

While we are all waiting for whatever there are a few things we can do to remind us that we are all gardeners after all and Spring isn’t nearly as far away as it was at the winter solstice.


Time for the 2nd most important fertilizer application for cool season grasses (tall fescue & bluegrass).  Apply a slow-release product as per the recommendation of the SOIL TEST I know you took in the Fall.

Late this month or early March is the ideal time to apply preemergent crabgrass control to all lawns.  Do it before the dogwoods (Cornus florida) bloom to achieve optimum control.  Accuracy is important.  Read the label and calibrate your spreader.  Too little product will not give good control.  Too much may damage the turf.


See LAWN CARE above & PLANTING below.


Here we go!  The long wait is over.  Get your hands dirty (muddy, frozen?).  Work that soil.  At least be ready in case it dries out.  Stick some salad greens and root vegetables in the ground.  Things that will tolerate early planting include (in alphabetical order, no less) cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips.  For sure you tested the soil in the Fall when it was free and added the lime recommended by NCDOA.  Now add the fertilizer.


Last call for pruning fruit trees and bunch grapes.  It is also a great time to trim summer flowering shrubs and trees e.g. Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus seriatcus), crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia sps) (Please avoid severe pruning of crape myrtles otherwise known as crape murder.  It isn’t good for the tree and it certainly messes with its aesthetics.), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and hydrangeas that  bloom on new wood (H. arborescens & H. panniculata).

Ornamental grasses should be cut back this month before the new growth emerges.

This is also the best time to do any major remedial pruning of broadleaf evergreen shrubs.  If they are way overgrown go for it.  They can be cut back to 12” t0 18” and not only survive, but thrive.


Those of you with fruit trees it is time to break out the sprayer.  Peaches and nectarines need a fungicide application to control leaf curl.  Shooting your fruit trees with a dormant oil now will help control several insects later in the year.


Do some hardwood cutting propagation.  This time of the year you can take cuttings from plants like crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia sps), flowering quince (Chaenomoles sps), Junipers (Juniperus sps), spiraea (Spiraea sps), and weigelia (Weigelia sps).

Perennials can be divided.

Make the bluebird of happiness happy by cleaning out her house.  She and her mate will reward you by moving in in the Spring.

One last thing.  There’s this sorta special holiday that we usually celebrate with plant material of some sort in the middle of the month.  Order it now or sleep on the couch on the 15th.  FYI; flowers as a gift are gender neutral.  Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.

*Resources & Further Reading

Organic Lawn Care Guide

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs

**Want to learn how to start your own warm season vegetable garden? Check out our upcoming seminar!

General Pruning Tips,died%20due%20to%20water%20stress.

North Carolina Pruning Calendar

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

Learn With Us

Virtual Garden Tours: Sometimes on these cold, dreary winter days it feels like spring will never arrive! Why not brighten your day by looking at the videos of NC Cooperative Extension’s Pollinator Paradise Garden in Pittsboro? These virtual tours feature many of the garden’s 225 different species of plants and the pollinators and other beneficial insects and critters that depend on this habitat. You can learn about new species of plants to include in your garden. Click here to view the videos on the Growing Small Farms website.

Online Learning: Vance/Warren EMGVs will host an on-line learning series with the theme “Gardening in Harmony with Nature”, featuring presenters from NC State Horticulture, the NC Botanical Garden, NC Audubon and Cooperative Extension. The series will be held on alternate Wednesdays at 1 pm, beginning 2/11. Get all the details, including the registration link, at

Virtual Bee Hotel Build-along, Feb. 27, 2021, 1-3 PM: Bring some happiness to your backyard native bees with your very own bee hotel! Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt will kick off this event with the biology of native bees and then the expert crafters at the Makerspace will guide us on a build-a-long. We’ll end up with more understanding and love of our native bees and a hotel for them to call home this spring. For the build: You can bring your own materials from a list provided at this link. Or, for those who do not have saws and want to avoid a trip to the hardware store, we have a limited number of pre-cut lumber kits available for purchase, too ($25, shipping to NC and surrounding states only). Kits must be purchased by February 15th. Registration and more info, here: The event is free to attend with registration, open to all, and we welcome anyone who wants to learn about native bees, whether you stick around for the build or not.