Ilex vomitoria, a landscaping shrub that doubles as a tea provider

Ilex vomitoria is a herbal shrub that boasts fascinating properties when drunk as tea.

Ilex vomitoria instant facts

NameIlex vomitoria
Family – Ilex (holly)
Type – shrub, evergreen

Exposure – full sun, part sun
Soil – all soil types
Height – 4 feet (dwarf) to 18 feet (tree)
(1.25 to 5 meters, depending on the variety)

Ilex vomitoria, also called yaupon, is quite the stunner in the garden in winter thanks to its lush evergreen leaves and bright red berries!

Proper way to plant Ilex vomitoria

Ilex vomitoria is a shrub that responds well to transplanting.

  • If you’ve purchased your Ilex vomitoria from a store, you can plant it immediately all year round.
  • However, spring and fall are best to give your shrub the best chances of settling down.

You can also simply dig an offshoot up from a willing neighbor’s garden. Ilex vomitoria won’t give you any hassle and will take off without the slightest hint of transplant shock.

Only dwarf yaupon should be planted in pots. Taller yaupon species can be planted in small, medium and large gardens.

Ilex vomitoria care

How to water Ilex vomitoria

Initially, Ilex vomitoria needs moderate amounts of water to settle in.

  • Water when dry during the first year.
  • In following years, only water during strong heat waves.
  • Infrequent watering helps increase drought resistance.

Ilex vomitaria fertilizer

There is no need to provide fertilizer for your Ilex vomitoria to grow.

  • Production of flowers, leaves and berries is more dependant on exposure – the more sun, the more growth!
  • Repot container-grown ilex vomitoria every two or three years.
  • For potted specimens, do provide regular container shrub fertilizer as recommended on the label. This is especially important in years two and three after repotting.

Pruning and trimming Ilex vomitoria

Like other Ilex species, “slow and steady” is what best describes the growth pattern of Ilex vomitoria. Larger yaupon grow faster than dwarf yaupon hollies.

  • One pruning every two years in spring is more than enough.
  • If you want to control size for growing Ilex vomitoria in a garden box or container, prune yearly (still in spring).
  • For topiary, best practices are to trim more severely in spring and then again more lightly early fall.

How to help a straggly overgrown Ilex vomitoria to recover

Severe pruning is possible. In spring:

  • If several trunks have grown, cut down all but the most vigorous one.
  • Nip the topmost branches to the desired height.
  • Cut bottom branches back by half or a third, leaving half or two-thirds on the tree.
  • Cut all other branches in a straight line from the new tip of the bottom branches to the new tip of the tree. This should make the entire tree fit within a cone shape.
  • Remove branches at the trunk wherever there are too many, to lighten up the tree and let sunlight touch the entire tree.

Your Ilex vomitoria will look a bit scrawny and leafless, but very quickly it will start growing many new twigs and leaves. Within two to four years it will start showing its nice, distinctive shape again.

The name of this type of pruning is called “hat racking“. It should only be used on a few select species, and then again only as a last resort.

Diseases and pests that attack Ilex vomitoria

It’s extremely rare to see an Ilex vomitoria succumb to diseases or pests.

When well settled in, Ilex vomitoria will resist both drought and occasionally drenched soils.

Note, though, that if planted in part shade, your Ilex vomitoria might be more vulnerable to root rot in wet soils. This would translate into dropping leaves and, in extreme cases, entire sections of the shrub would die off.

  • Deer and birds (mockingbirds especially) are attracted by Ilex vomitoria berries in fall and winter.

Ilex vomitoria varieties

Ilex vomitoria, although native to Southeastern United States, easily acclimatizes along coastal areas all along North America. Several noteworthy varieties are distributed in horticulture stores:

Dwarf Ilex vomitoria varieties

These grow slowly, and remain small if pruned often.

  • Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’ – wonderful homogenous, round cushion shape that slowly gets bigger and bigger. Red berries.
  • Ilex vomitoria ‘Condeaux’ – also called “Bordeaux dwarf yaupon holly”
  • Ilex vomitoria ‘Stokes Dwarf’ – actually a synonym to Ilex vomitoria ‘Shillings’. No berries (male cultivar).

Tree Ilex vomitoria varieties

These grow taller and can be used for hedges.

  • Ilex vomitoria ‘Virginia Dare’ – Orange berries, proficient fruit-bearer.
  • Ilex vomitoria Pride of Houston’ – up to around 18 feet (5.5 meters) tall, easily grows multiple trunks, red berries.
  • Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’ – tall and narrow, reaches for the sky. Silhouette similar to that of a small cypress.

The following have a distinctive shape and are best planted on their own, or in a dedicated shrub bed:

  • Ilex vomitoria ‘Gray’s Weeping’
  • Ilex vomitoria ‘Fulsom’s Weeping’ – a female variety, bearing fruit on its weeping branches.
  • Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’ – also a weeping variety. Similar to birch in bearing, but smaller (up to 25 feet or 7.5 meters).
  • Ilex vomitoria ‘Aiton’ – one of the tallest weeping species.

Learn more about Ilex vomitoria

Dense berries cover a thicket of Ilex vomitoria.The latin name of the plant is misleading: “vomitoria” means “vomit-inducing”. In reality, Ilex vomitoria doesn’t do much as regards vomiting or digestion, except if you drink large quantities of tea extract. This explains the “light toxicity” warning sometimes attributed to Ilex vomitoria.

Note: don’t eat or use the berriesIlex vomitoria leaves are what you want to make yaupon tea from!

However, this Ilex vomitoria herbal tea is very potent as a stimulating drink because it contains caffeine in noteworthy amounts. The common name for the plant, “Yaupon”, derives from Native Americans. They used the plant to brew herbal tea which they drank before going into battle. The caffeine drink would excite their senses and make them feel nearly invincible!

“Ilex”, the genus name, was chosen because the small, serrated (toothed) leaves were very similar in size and shape to those of evergreen oak, Quercus ilex – and they are both evergreens.

Smart tip about Ilex vomitoria

Ilex vomitoria leaves contain caffeine in high amounts, but in a particular form that energizes without giving the jitters. Roast a few handfuls in an oven and brew like coffee! Double check that you’ve got the right variety, though, because not all types of holly have edible leaves.

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Ilex vomitoria branch by Madison Wooley under Pexels license
Dense berries on Ilex vomitoria by an anonymous photographer under pxhere licence