Buds N Bugs: Myrtle-leaf holly

Myrtle-leaf holly Photo available for purchase

Myrtle-leaf holly

Lois Swoboda
Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 12:19 PM.

As I already mentioned, during the 2013 Christmas Bird Count, I visited Port St. Joe Airport where there are a number of unusual plants. One I noticed particularly is this yellow form of myrtle-leaf holly.

Myrtle-leaf holly (Ilex myrtifolia) is an evergreen shrub or small tree with many short, crooked branches and tiny leaves. Height is usually no more than 18-20 feet with a trunk diameter of about six inches but the national champion, near Lawtey, is 40 feet tall with a crown spread of 35 feet.

This is a wetland plant often found on the border of ponds, swamps and pine or bald cypress forests. Flowers are tiny and rounded with four white petals and occur in the spring. The plant is dioecious (die-oh-see-us) meaning male and female flowers are on separate plants. The berries are found only on female trees. They are usually bright red but may be yellow or orange.  They ripen in the autumn.

The stiff, leathery leaves are a bit smaller than those of yaupon holly and their edges are smooth. Yaupon leaves are edged with small rounded teeth.

This plant is rarely cultivated but deserves more attention from local gardeners.

It is native to zone 8 but is viable in zones 7-10. While this plant prefers wet feet, it is drought-tolerant and somewhat salt-tolerant. Myrtle-leaf holly prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade.

 It could be used as an evergreen screen or pruned into a formal hedge. Birds, especially cedar waxwings, eat the berries, which usually persist on the plant until the end of winter.

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