Ilex vomitoria, commonly known as yaupon or yaupon holly, is a species of holly that is native to southeastern North America. The word yaupon was derived from the Catawban yą́pą, from yą- tree + pą leaf. Another common name, cassina, was borrowed from Timucua. The Latin name comes from an incorrect belief by Europeans that the plant caused vomiting in certain ceremonies. The plant was traditionally used by Native Americans to make an infusion containing caffeine. It is only one of two known plants endemic to North America that produce caffeine. Yaupon is also widely used for landscaping in its native range.
Yaupon holly is an evergreen shrub or small tree, with smooth, light gray bark and slender, hairy shoots. The leaf arrangement is alternate, with leaves ovate to elliptical and a rounded apex with crenate or coarsely serrated margin, 1–4.5 cm long and 1–2 cm broad, glossy dark green above, slightly paler below. The flowers are 5–5.5 mm diameter, with a white four-lobed corolla. The fruit is a small round, shiny, and red (occasionally yellow) drupe 4–6 mm diameter containing four pits, 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.
Table of Contents
10 - 30 feet
8 - 12 feet
4.5 - 7.0
Types of Yaupon Holly
Also known as ‘Bordeaux,’ this one is a real looker. With a compact, low growth habit, it’s lovely in a border and it adds year-round interest with its glossy dark green leaves which turn burgundy-red in the winter. The shrub stays around four feet tall and spreads up to six feet wide.
With a mature height of 30 feet, this is a good option for a large area. It has a more loose growth habit than other cultivars, with long, graceful branches. The berries are incredibly intense, with brighter red coloring than most other cultivars, and they’re a bit larger, to boot.
‘Jewel’ stands out because it produces piles and piles of red berries on a 10-foot-tall shrub. There’s also a ‘Baby Jewel’ option that is half that size at maturity.
A teeny-tiny dwarf cultivar, ‘Nana’ won’t spread outside of his assigned area, staying just five feet tall and wide. With pruning, you can keep him even more petite. ‘Nana’ might sound like a nickname for a sweet grandmother, but this plant is actually male. No berries on this one.
A lot of yaupons look better in a group. Think hedges or screens. But ‘Pendula’ stands out all on its own. This cultivar has a graceful weeping and stays under 15 feet tall. The evergreen foliage adds interest all year long and the nearly translucent red berries not only create a cheerful scene in the fall and winter, but the wildlife will love them.
Pride of Houston
At 20 feet tall, ‘Pride of Houston’ is a stately option. It stays fairly narrow with a 10-foot spread and grows much slower than some other cultivars. New foliage is bright, light green with tons of bright red berries. And it’s particularly suited to dry areas, like Houston.
A semi-dwarf cultivar, this one grows to about 10 feet wide and seven feet tall, or you can keep it half that size with regular trimming without adverse effects. This is a male cultivar, so no berries to worry about if you don’t like plants that produce fruit. It’s an excellent option if you want a pollinator for your females thanks to its abundance of flowers.
With a spreading, mounding habit, ‘Stoke’s Dwarf’ makes an excellent border, low-growing hedge, or specimen plant. It grows to about four feet tall and just a bit wider.
The foliage is slightly blue and extremely glossy, which adds texture and visual interest all season long. This is a male cultivar.
This plant will guide your way through the winter garden with its bright red nose, erm, I mean berries. It’s a petite treat at just five feet tall, though it takes well to pruning to keep it smaller.
Planting Yaupon Holly
Yaupon can be planted in any garden quite easily if you follow these shrub planting instructions.
Yaupon is a very resilient shrub and is not vulnerable to transplant shock.
Spring is the best season to plant yaupon, next best is fall.
Avoid days of frost and/or heat waves.
Note that there are two main types of yaupon:
“Tree” yaupon that grows into very large shrubs, up to 30 feet tall (9 or 10 meters).
“Dwarf yaupon” that stays rather small, usually around 4-6 feet (1.5 to 2 meters). When left unpruned, though, even dwarf yaupon holly will keep growing every year until it dies.
For container growing, it’s always best to choose dwarf yaupon holly, since you won’t need to repot it as often.
For hedges, regular tree yaupon varieties is perfect. Some yaupon types are better suited to topping off fence walls with greenery. Others are opaque from top to bottom for full-fledged hedges. Jump to the section about different species of yaupon.
Yaupon Holly Care
Yaupon holly is one of the more tolerant holly shrubs and does well in various soil types, moisture levels, pH levels, and sun exposures. Once roots are well established, yaupon hollies are drought-resistant and transplant very easily. After planting, apply mulch at the base of the plant to keep the soil moist and cool. Light annual pruning is recommended, especially if you grow the plant as a hedge. Plants being grown as small trees require more diligent pruning.
Yaupon holly is free of many problems plaguing other hollies, with good resistance to most diseases and pests. Potential diseases include leaf spot, leaf rot, tar spot, and powdery mildew. The shrubs have occasional issues with leafminers, spider mites, whitefly, and scale.
Yaupon holly tolerates full and partial sun. However, growth in full sun will yield more berries.
The yaupon holly prefers sandy soil but grows well in diverse soil compositions. It has a high tolerance for salty soil, making it a good choice for planting near the ocean. It's best to plant a yaupon holly in moist, dry, acidic, or alkaline soil.
Yaupon hollies are not drought resistant and need to be watered regularly. Water the root ball twice or three times a week during the plant's first year and then weekly. Use rainwater and distilled water rather than tap water and water during the morning or evening.
Temperature and Humidity
The yaupon holly can adapt to various climates but prefers slightly cooler and humid weather. It may struggle to survive winters at the higher end of its hardiness range. Yaupon hollies are generally cold-resistant.
You can fertilize your yaupon holly lightly once in the spring and fall, and be sure not to fertilize during planting. You may apply a thin layer of mulch to the ground but avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers.
Harvesting and Processing
You can use fresh, dried, or roasted leaves and/or stems to make yaupon tea, but avoid the poisonous berries.
It’s really easy to harvest the leaves by grabbing the stem near the trunk and sliding your hand outward stripping them off. Or you can just cut the entire stem which makes air-drying easier.
To air-dry yaupon leaves on the stem, hang the stems in a warm, dry area for a couple of weeks. Make sure you put something like a sheet pan underneath to catch the leaves that will inevitably fall from the stem.
To expedite the drying process, spread the fresh leaves out on a sheet pan or a dehydrator tray, making sure not to pile them on top of each other and to give them plenty of breathing room -- they should be spread out in a single layer.
Then dehydrate in an oven or dehydrator set at 200 degrees F for a few hours.
You can also roast the leaves in the oven or parch on a stove top at 350-400 degrees F. Native Americans traditionally parched them to a dark brown over a fire.
Parching or roasting, even in an oven without smoke, gives the leaves a smoky flavor similar to yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis).
Once the leaves are dried and/or parched, crumble them with your fingers or with a mortar and pestle and store in airtight glass jars just like you would store any herbal tea.
Pruning and Propagating Yaupon Holly
While typically unnecessary, you can lightly prune a yaupon holly to maintain your desired shape or limit disease spread. If the tree is small, prune the lower side branches. If the tree is small, prune the lower side branches. You can rejuvenate badly overgrown shrubs by cutting away up to one-third of the branches. Cut selected stems down the base of the plant. When shaping as a hedge, cut the ends of branches back to 1/4 inch above a node facing the direction you want the branch to grow. Cut away suckers from the base of the plant as they appear unless your goal is to encourage the shrub to grow into a thicket.
Propagating Yaupon Holly
Yaupon holly is best propagated from small, semi-hardwood cuttings taken in the fall. Here's how to propagate a yaupon holly:
Select small branches and sever the cutting below a set of leaves
Remove the lower leaves, then coat the cut end with a rooting hormone
Place the cutting in a mixture of perlite and coarse sand, and keep the cutting moist and warm until roots develop
After 8 to 10 weeks, you can transplant the cutting into a large pot filled with a loam/sand mix
Transplant to a permanent location
Potting and Repotting
You can pot a yaupon holly in any pot as long as it has adequate drainage, but heavy pots made of wood and terracotta are ideal. Fill your container with potting soil, loosen the plant's roots with your fingers, and insert the shrub. Keep the soil moist and fertilize every one to two weeks.
The yaupon holly does well during winter and can survive in low temperatures. You may prune the shrub lightly or bundle its branches with ropes to prevent damage from heavy snowfall.
Pests and Plant Diseases
There are multiple types of nematodes that can wreak havoc on Ilex species, including root-knot (Meliodogyne spp.), ring (Mesocriconema and Criconemoides spp.), stunt (Tylenchorhynchus spp.), sting (Belonolaimus spp.) and spiral nematodes (Helicotylenchus spp.).
Don’t bother looking for these pests – they’re microscopic and live in the soil where they feed on the roots of many different species, using their sucking mouthparts.
Not only does this cause chlorosis, stunting, and leaf drop, but they also leave infested plants open to disease.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to eliminate them from the soil, though solarization and leaving soil fallow for years can help.
Just do your best to provide your plants with support and they might be able to live with an infestation for years to come. ‘Nana’ is resistant to all types of nematodes.
Indian wax scale (Ceroplases ceriferus) and holly pit scale (Asterolecanium puteanum) are common on yaupons, but they’re only a major problem in large numbers.
Hollies might wilt, the leaves might turn yellow, and they might drop. Heavily infested plants might have branches die or the entire plant might fail.
Look for white waxy lumps or flat brown circles on the branches and twigs. Use a butter knife and try scraping them away. You can also prune off heavily infested branches. That should be enough to keep them under control.
If an infestation persists, spray with horticultural oil when temperatures are between 45 and 90°F. Repeat every 10 days as long as the insects are present.
There’s really only one disease that can be a common problem for these plants and it’s easily avoided if you provide the right conditions.
Phytophthora Root Rot
Caused by the oomycete (aka water mold) Phytophthora cinnamomi, this disease can be hard to identify because all the damage is happening underground.
The roots will start turning brown or black at the tips. As the disease progresses, the black or brown rot extends throughout the entire root structure.
Meanwhile, above ground, the tree will look wilted and stunted and you’ll see yellowing between the leaf veins. The leaves may also drop and twigs might die back.
This disease usually occurs in plants that are planted too deeply, that are over-mulched, or that are sitting in standing water due to overwatering or very poorly draining soil.
Planting in the right spot with adequate drainage and taking care not to overwater or using too much mulch is key for prevention. Once a plant is showing symptoms, you’ll probably need to pull it.
If it’s a plant you’re particularly fond of, you can treat the soil with a product that contains the beneficial microbe Streptomyces lydicus WYEC 108, like Actinovate SP.
The faster you apply a fungicide, the better your chance of getting rid of the disease. Soak the soil with the fungicide once every two weeks until the symptoms subside.
Common Problems With Yaupon Holly
The yaupon holly tends to be disease and pest-resistant, except for rare infestation and disease and the resulting damage. As with any tree, pay attention to its general health and the possible presence of insects.
Benefits of Yaupon Tea
The most important health benefits of regularly drinking yaupon tea include its potential effects on cancer, blood pressure, dental health, inflammatory conditions, the immune system, and digestive processes, among others.
Researchers from Texas A&M University studied the effect of polyphenolics from yaupon holly leaves in human colon cells. The anti-inflammatory flavones present in it, quercetin and kaempferol, showed an inhibitory effect on colon cancer possibility in these cells as they were able to reduce oxidative stress. Also, some people consider the tea to be a superfood, due to its rich supply of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients, including certain compounds that are linked to lower cancer rates, particularly colon cancer.
One of the active ingredients in this tea is called theobromine, which is known to help lower blood pressure and reduce strain on your cardiovascular system.
Recent studies have found that this herbal tea can help to moderate the immune response and cut down on inflammatory issues, such as the pain and discomfort of arthritis, as well as headaches, gout, and joint pain.
There are polyphenolic compounds in this tea that have been directly linked to stimulating the immune system, which can help you avoid infections from foreign pathogens.
Theobromine is not only good for blood pressure, but also for preventing oral infections and keeping your teeth healthy.
This tea can stimulate the digestive and metabolic systems, helping to eliminate constipation and indigestion.
They make an excellent hedge, screen, or barrier, with their dense growth habit. They’re also a stunning option for bonsai, especially if you opt for a female.
Some Native American tribes brew the leaves and stems to create an herbal tea, commonly called black drink.
Native Americans may have also used the infusion as a laxative.
Fruiting branches used as holiday decorations.