Holly days plentiful but don't eat berries
The recent cold weather has had an effect on every living creature in Franklin and Gulf Counties. The human population has pulled out the heavy clothes and prepared for the power bill tripling.
The forest creatures also sought a warm, safe spot too, but without the option of artificial heat. Likely selections included burrows, bedding in wind shielded spots, and tree hollows, all of which can be found in local wild areas.
The next issue was finding food to stay warm from the inside and maintain energy. Again, people have the advantage of numerous local choices ranging from the quick and greasy to the trendy and stylish.
The wild animals and birds have fewer options dispersed over a much wider area. Unlike menu options as dining spots, when the wild food sources are gone they are gone until the next season.
One genus of native plants is still displaying its brilliant seasonal tones, indicating diners are welcome to stop by for a snack or meal. Local hollies are heavily laden with red berries and deep green leaves.
Ilexes, as hollies are botanically known, are common in the temperate to tropical parts of the globe with species on every continent, except frigid Antarctica. There are approximately 500 individual species in this genus of evergreens.
The greatest diversity of holly species occurs in the Americas. Curiously, Europe has a single well known species with is commonly associated with the Christmas season.
Plants in this genus have simple, alternate glossy leaves, usually with sharp spines on their leaf’s edge. Their inconspicuous flower is greenish white, with four petals and is a source of food for native pollinators during the warmer months of the year.
The berries now appearing are an important source of winter food. In return, the birds spread the undigested seed to establish the next generation of this plant.
Humans and other mammals should not eat the berries which can cause gastric distress. Hollies native to the Franklin County area have red berries, but other colors appear on different species.
Generally slow growers, hollies can be either trees or shrubs. Fossil records indicate the earliest known ilex members have been around since the last days of the dinosaurs.
While there are many exotic hollies used in home landscapes, there are several native species too. These fit nicely into landscapes, but are found in the wild also.
Dahoon Holly has smooth, shiny dark green leaves two to three inches long with just a few serrations near the tip. This holly tree is capable of reaching a height of 20 to 30 feet with an eight to 12 foot wide limb spread.
Dahoons have male and female flowers on separate plants with male and female trees need to be in close proximity to ensure production of the brilliant red berries in fall and winter. The berries serve as an excellent food source for wildlife but are not heavy producers.
First identified in 1927 growing near East Palatka, Florida, the Palatka Holly is thought to be a hybrid between two other Ilex species. The broad, rounded leaves have one spine at the tip and few, if any, along the blade edge.
A female Palatka Holly is usually heavily laden with bright red berries in fall and winter, especially toward the top of the tree. The tree is capable of growing to approximately 45 feet having a moderately tight, pyramidal shape.
Yaupon, sometimes called a yaupon holly, is a small evergreen tree or large shrub capable of reaching 25 feet in height. It has small grey-green leathery leaves densely arranged along smooth, stiff branches.
It will grow in soil with a pH in the mildly alkaline range and is very tolerant of drought and salty air from the Gulf of Mexico. While ideal for Apalachicola and other coastal landscapes, female plants are very heavy berry producers and can form dense thickets if unmanaged.
The local hollies are ready to serve the hungry wild residents or travelers migrating through the area. Keep in mind, if a flock arrives famished from flying the berries can disappear almost overnight.
To learn more about this versatile tree in Gulf and Franklin County, contact the nearest UF/IFAS County Extension Office or visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/. To read more stories by Les Harrison visit: Outdoorauthor.com and follow me on Facebook.