Yaupon, a tea tree native to North America

Yaupon is a shrubby tree of the holly family. Native Americans used it to brew battle tea as a stimulant before setting on the warpath!

Yaupon basic facts

Name – Ilex vomitoria
Family – Ilex (holly)
Type – evergreen shrub

Height – 3-30 feet (1 to 10 meters)
Exposure – full or part sun
Soil – no restrictions

As it grows slowly and bears beautiful berries, you won’t be digging up the hatchet against your neighbors!

How to plant Yaupon

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 care

Planting yaupon as a standalone means you won’t have to care for it at all!

Indeed, it naturally grows into beautiful shapes. Most dwarf varieties are mounding, meaning they grow into dense balls or cushions. Some taller varieties resemble Christmas trees or weeping willows.

  • except for the first year (basic watering in case of drought), no care is needed for your yaupon when planted in the ground.
  • In pots or containers, water before it dries up entirely and repot every two or three years.

To boost blooming and have your yaupon grow dense leaves, grow it in full sun.

  • The blooming is insignificant, but the berries that result from fertilization are wonderful!
  • Increase the number of berries by attracting beneficial insects to the garden

How to prune Yaupon shrubs

Yaupon will keep on growing throughout its entire lifetime. If you never prune it, it may reach up to over 30 feet tall (10 meters) tall and wide.

  • You don’t need to prune if your yaupon has space to grow. Yaupon naturally grows into wonderful shapes that depend on the variety.
  • To keep your dwarf yaupon small, prune every year or every two years.
  • Spring is the ideal season to prune or trim your yaupon.

As they grow, dwarf yaupon hollies will form a nice, round shape, like a green half-bubble resting on the ground. Dwarf varieties are easily kept small, from 2 feet to 6 feet (60cm to 2m).

Other, taller varieties will branch out like an elegant vase, while still others grow into triangular pyramids. When left untended, yaupon grows secondary trunks and forms dense thickets that are a boon for nesting birds.

Yaupon constantly sends out new branches from old wood.

  • This is good, because it means you can trim yaupon back heavily if ever you need more space in the garden.
  • However, if you aim to have tree-like shape with a clear trunk, you’ll need to prune suckers off your yaupon every year.

Note that generally, male specimens grow faster than female specimens – a consequence of not diverting energy into giving life to the next generation!

Watering yaupon and fertilizing it

Yaupon only needs watering during the first year, to help it settle in.

There’s no need to fertilize the soil around your yaupon. Of course, layering organic mulch will always help it grow strong and vigorous!

Yaupon diseases and pests

There are no common pests or diseases that affect yaupon. Even deer only resort to nibbling yaupon only once all other fodder is unavailable.

Note, however, that deer do like munching on the berries. They won’t harm the yaupon much in doing so.

Yaupon can tolerate all types of soil, but full sun is needed for the tree to survive if ever the ground is always wet. Yaupon might be weakened by wet roots if there isn’t enough sun to keep the sap circulating.

How to propagate yaupon

Preparing cuttings is the best way to propagate your yaupon. Cuttings is a sure way to get new plants that are exactly the same as the first.

How to make yaupon cuttings

  • In fall, select 8-inch (15 cm) cuttings from semi-hardened wood (wood that has grown since spring).
  • Remove all leaves except for 3 or 4 at the tip.
  • If you’ve got some, dip the cutting in rooting hormone. Aloe vera works great for that.
  • Plant the cuttings in a mix of sand and soil mix.
  • Roots should start developing within two to three months.

Special Yaupon varieties

Depending on what you find appealing, different yaupon varieties might be the perfect match for you!

Berry yaupon varieties

Yaupon with yellow or golden berries – ‘Yawkey’ (or ‘Yawkeyi’), ‘Aureo’ which has canary-yellow berries, and ‘Wiggins Yellow‘. ‘Virginia Dare‘ has orange berries.

Taller Yaupon varieties with nice shapes and sizes

Weeping yaupon – ‘Pendula’,Fulsom’s Weeping‘ or ‘Gray’s Weeping

Straight, sky-reaching yaupon – ‘Will Fleming‘ is like a miniature poplar tree. ‘Shadow’s Female‘ is shaped like a Christmas tree, with dense leaves that make it great for topiary. ‘Dodds Cranberry‘ grows into a roundish shape and isn’t so dense unless pruned often for it to branch out.

Dwarf yaupon varieties

Where do all the Yaupon cultivars come from?

Dark green yaupon leaves and red fruits starting to shrivel at the end of winter.Most often, yaupon varieties that are sold in stores are cloned offshoots of a special, remarkable specimen. In this case, cloning doesn’t mean that they were created in laboratories: every time you take a cutting and grow a new plant, you’re simply growing a clone of the original.

Nurseries and horticulturists propagate thousands of plants, and sometimes a slight mutation pops up. If it can be reproduced, a new yaupon variety is born!

Other techniques involve breeding: pollen from a male plant is spread on female yaupon varieties. Seedlings sown from these seeds are grown and sometimes genetics make for an interesting variety.

Learn more about yaupon

As mentioned earlier, Yaupon is a wonderful shrub native to the SouthEast of North America. Naturally, it spans from Texas to South Carolina, with Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia in between. Today, it’s being rediscovered and introduced all the way to California for landscaping, environmental protection, and even herbal tea!

Berries and fruiting

Yaupon is a plant species that has markedly different male and female specimens. Like us, female specimens bear offspring and need to be fertilized by male specimens to do so. Other common plants are similar, like the kiwi plant, Actinidia.

  • If you want berries on your yaupon shrubs, you must plant female plants together with at least 1 (one) male plant nearby.
  • The male plant will bear small flowers but no berries.
  • Berries will only form if the flower is fertilized.
  • Beneficial insects help out with pollination, and planting the male yaupon upwind helps, too!
  • Ensure enough soil moisture is present during fruit formation, or the berries will drop (use plant based mulch or pine bark).

Woodworking with yaupon

Yaupon never grows very wide at the trunk, but the wood is nonetheless very worthy of attention. It’s a bit brittle, but very hard.

  • It’s important to let the wood dry evenly. Either ask a professional to dry it in an oven (kiln) or air-dry it yourself in a dry spot. A sensible precaution is to cover the cuts with either wax or thick paint so that the drying evenly occurs through the bark to prevent end splits. Drying it quickly prevents gray marks caused by fungus.
  • Yaupon wood is very white (when dried fast enough) and doesn’t show strong grain marks (the opposite of oak). Slow growth results in very tight growth rings.
  • Rarely used for planks due to size, but great for sculpting (with care due to brittleness), turning, and inlaying.

Is yaupon edible?

Young leaves are the edible part of yaupon. They’re roasted (like coffee) and brewed to make tea (an infusion actually). Drinking excessive amounts may induce vomiting, though. Berries and bark aren’t edible, and also induce vomiting.

Smart tip about yaupon

Yaupon is often found along the coast. It helps stabilize dunes and copes with sea spray and salty air very well!

Read more


Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Early yaupon berries by edbo23 under Pixabay license
Late yaupon berries under public domain