General: Holly Family (Aquifoliaceae). Yaupon is a native, perennial, evergreen shrub or a small tree (8 m tall). The leathery leaf blades (1 to 2.5 cm long) are alternate, elliptical or oval with shallow teeth at the margins. The upper surface is a lustrous green with a lighter green lower surface. The leaves contain caffeine. Yaupon is the only native plant in North America that contains caffeine. Flowers (5 to 5.5 mm) with four greenish white petals appear from March through May. Blooms appear on axillary clusters on year-old wood. Male flowers appear in clusters while female flowers grow either solitarily or in pairs. Young stems are covered with a purplish down which changes to whitish gray with age. The bark is light in color, from white to gray. The heartwood is hard and close-grained. Female plants have beautiful, round fruits that are a translucent red (5 to 6 mm in diameter) and contain four nutlets. The fruits frequently stay on the bush until the following spring.
Distribution: Yaupon occurs in the Coastal Plain of the Southeastern United States. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Habitat: Yaupon generally occurs in coastal areas in well-drained sandy soils. It can be found on the upper edges of brackish and salt marshes, sandy hammocks, coastal sand dunes, inner-dune depressions, sandhills, maritime forests, nontidal forested wetlands, well-drained forests and pine flatwoods.
Yaupon holly, cassena, cassina, cassine, evergreen cassena, evergreen holly, Indian blackdrink, Christmas berry
Regularity: Regularly occurring
southeastern United States. Its range extends from the northern coast
of Virginia south to central Florida and west to Oklahoma and eastern
Occurrence in North America
TN TX VA
Yaupon is an erect, slow-growing, native evergreen shrub or small tree.
It forms dense thickets about 25 feet (8 m) tall. Many stems ascend
from the base, forming a low, dense, rounded crown . The thick
evergreen leaves are simple, alternate, leathery, and vary in size and
shape on the different plants. The inconspicuous flowers are dioecious
and are borne in short-stalked axils at the base of the leaves. The
bark is thin, gray, and smooth. The small, shiny red fruit is a drupe
Depth range (m): 0.5 - 0.5
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.
Yaupon grows best in climates with mild winters and long, hot, humid
summers. It is found on coastal dunes, maritime forests, upland
woodlands of various mixtures, and pine flatwoods. For the most part,
yaupon inhabits well-drained sites but also occurs on streambanks, in
wet woodlands, and floodplains. Yaupon commonly forms shrub thickets on
coastal dunes where it is a component of the slanting,
salt-spray-pruned, dense masses of shrubs characteristic of seaside
Common overstory associates include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida),
sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), sweetbay (Persea borbonia), blackgum
(Nyssa sylvatica), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), loblolly-bay (Gordonia
lasianthus), hickory (Carya spp.), and oak (Quercus spp.). Understory
associates include American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), southern
bayberry (Myrica cerifera), swamp fetterbush (Leucothoe racemosa),
greenbrier (Smilax spp.), and poor-man's soap (Clethra alnifolia)
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
More info for the terms: hardwood, swamp
70 Longleaf pine
73 Southern redcedar
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
84 Slash pine
89 Live oak
102 Baldcypress - tupelo
103 Water tupelo - swamp tupelo
104 Sweetbay - swamp tupelo - redbay
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K090 Live oak - sea oats
K091 Cypress savanna
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
Depth range (m): 0.5 - 0.5
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.
Yaupon is a picturesque tree with an upright stature and irregular branches. The plants may be used as screens, hedges and mass plantings. They make good specimen trees and can be espaliered or used as a topiary plant. The trees are one of the toughest of the hollies, easy to transplant, medium to fast growing and grow well on a variety of soils. They can grow in dry to fairly wet soils and are tolerant of salt spray. They make excellent plants for coastal areas but also do well a considerable distance from the coast. Yaupon is better adapted to warmer climates than other evergreen hollies. Be sure to include at least one male plant in order to insure adequate pollination for fruit set.
Fire Management Considerations
A fire management program that precludes a build up of understory yaupon
is recommended [11,40]. In Kisatchie Hill Wilderness of Louisana, crown
scorch of pine resulting from 25- to 30-foot (7.5-12 m) flame heights
was associated with the combustion of understory yaupon. The size and
density of yaupon was a result of 30 years of fire exclusion in the area
Immediate Effect of Fire
Mild fires probably top-kill yaupon [5,11,15]. Yaupon may be killed by
fires severe enough to consume the soil's organic layer.
survivor species; on-site survivng root crown or caudex
off-site colonizer; seed carried by animals or water; postfire year 1&2
Yaupon is only moderately well adapted to fire [28,30]. Presumably, it
survives fire by sprouting from the root crown.
Dense thickets of yaupon are a primary fuel source, promoting fire spread
in many parts of the Southeast [23,37].
Details on the regenerative processes of this species are lacking.
Birds are the primary mode of seed dispersal .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
More info for the term: phanerophyte
Plant Response to Fire
been reported, but details have not been described [13,28].
Life History and Behavior
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Ilex vomitoria
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ilex vomitoria
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Pests and potential problems
Yaupon has no serious pest or disease problems although leafminers have been reported to occasionally be a problem.
competes with pine seedlings and contributes to an accumulation of
understory fuels, which increases the potential for wildfires
Aerial applications of tebuthiuron were found to control yaupon and
other hardwoods effectively in eastern Texas [19,25].
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
These plant materials are readily available from commercial sources. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
The tree commonly forms thickets by sending up suckers that sprout from the roots. The tree responds well to pruning and shearing. Limbs may be removed in order to expose the bark, which is a lovely grayish white.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
purgative qualities .
Yaupon is often cultivated as an ornamental because of its bright red
berries and evergreen leaves . It is used extensively for hedges
and is also planted on seaside resorts [14,39].
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
spray, constant wind, full sunlight, and high temperatures, it has been
planted on the beaches and dunes of the Southeastern Coastal Plain
[4,14]. In Texas, yaupon was planted to restore borrow pits for
wildlife use .
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
turkey, racoon, squirrel, and wild hog [10,14,33].
Yaupon leaves are a high choice browse of white-tailed deer .
Wood Products Value
sometimes used for turnery, inlay work, and woodenware .
spring summer fall winter
protein 9.36 8.71 8.85 6.94
fat 3.09 3.12 3.67 4.84
fiber 17.33 26.69 21.85 21.62
N-free extract 46.34 42.40 46.34 48.53
ash 8.88 4.07 4.28 3.07
phosphorus 0.11 0.07 0.06 0.07
calcium 0.27 0.23 0.62 0.41
Ethnobotanic: Most if not all of the Native American tribes in the Southeastern United States including the Alabama, Cherokee, Creek, Natchez, and Seminole used Yaupon for medicinal as well as other purposes. A decoction was made from the leaves and shoots, called “black drink”, which was used medicinally, ceremonially, and was also served as a social drink. The leaves and shoots, which contain caffeine, were roasted in an earthenware container over a fire, much like coffee beans are roasted. The black drink was drunk socially and offered to visitors to indicate friendly intensions. Its primary medicinal use was as an emetic, to induce vomiting and as a purgative or laxative. It was taken to cure “a tremor in the nerves.” The drink was used in ceremonial medicine as an emetic to “clear out the system and produce ceremonial purity.” In some tribes, women and boys were prohibited from imbibing the drink. The Florida Seminoles still brew a “black drink” for their annual Green Corn Dance, although it is not always made with Yaupon, but from other plants. The plant was also used as a hallucinogen to “evoke ecstasies.” The bark was used to treat nightmares where the patient sees ghosts and talks during sleep. Sore eyes were treated with eyewash made by scraping off the inner bark and boiling it in water for several hours. The wood was used to make arrows and ramrods that were used in hunting and fishing. In addition to trading Yaupon with nearby neighbors, Native American tribes in the Southeastern United States probably increased the distribution of yaupon. There is evidence that they transplanted and cared for the trees (see Hammett 1992 for references).
Wildlife: The showy red berries of yaupon attract wildlife and are an important food for many songbirds, gamebirds and waterfowl. Bluebirds, catbirds, mockingbirds, robins, yellow-shafted flickers, red-naped sapsuckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, white-throated sparrows and cedar waxwings are among the many songbirds that feed on the berries. Florida ducks, black ducks, mourning doves, ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail and wild turkeys also consume the berries. Armadillos, black bears, gray foxes, western foxes, raccoons and skunks eat the fruits. White-tailed deer browse the foliage and twigs. The evergreen nature of the yaupon is important to wildlife as it provides cover during the winter months.
Caution: Poisonous plant-berries can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
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 its Catawban name, yopún, which is a diminutive form of the word yop, meaning "tree". Another common name, cassina, was borrowed from the Timucua language (despite this, it usually refers to Ilex cassine).
Yaupon holly is an evergreen shrub or small tree reaching 5–9 meters tall, with smooth, light gray bark and slender, hairy shoots. The leaves are alternate, ovate to elliptical with a rounded apex and 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.
Habitat and range
I. vomitoria occurs in the United States from Maryland south to Florida and west to Oklahoma (only in the extreme southeast) and Texas. A disjunct population occurs in the Mexican state of Chiapas. It generally occurs in coastal areas in well-drained sandy soils, and can be found on the upper edges of brackish and salt marshes, sandy hammocks, coastal sand dunes, inner-dune depressions, sandhills, maritime forests, nontidal forested wetlands, well-drained forests and pine flatwoods.
The fruit are an important food for many birds, including Florida duck, American black duck, mourning dove, ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail, wild turkey, northern flicker, sapsuckers, cedar waxwing, eastern bluebird, American robin, gray catbird, northern mockingbird, and white-throated sparrow. Mammals that eat the fruit include nine-banded armadillo, American black bear, gray fox, raccoon and skunks. The foliage and twigs are browsed by white-tailed deer.
Cultivation and uses
Native Americans used the leaves and stems to brew a tea, commonly thought to be called asi or black drink for male-only purification and unity rituals. The ceremony included vomiting, and Europeans incorrectly believed that it was Ilex vomitoria that caused it (hence the Latin name). The active ingredients, like those of the related yerba mate and guayusa, are actually caffeine and theobromine, and the vomiting either was learned or resulted from the great quantities in which they drank the beverage coupled with fasting. Others believe the Europeans improperly assumed the black drink to be the tea made from Ilex vomitoria when it was likely an entirely different drink made from various roots and herbs and did have emetic properties.
Beginning in 2012, American companies once again began offering commercial supplies of yaupon tea.
Ilex vomitoria is a common landscape plant in the Southeastern United States. The most common cultivars are slow-growing shrubs popular for their dense, evergreen foliage and their adaptability to pruning into hedges of various shapes. These include:
- 'Folsom Weeping' — weeping cultivar
- 'Grey's Littleleaf'/'Grey's Weeping' — weeping cultivar
- 'Nana'/'Compacta' — dwarf female clone usually remaining below 1 m in height.
- 'Pride of Houston' — female clone similar to type but featuring improvements in form, fruiting, and foliage.
- 'Schilling's Dwarf'/'Stokes Dwarf' — dwarf male clone that grows no more than 0.6 m tall and 1.2 m wide.
- 'Will Flemming' — male clone featuring a columnar growth habit.
- Ilex paraguariensis or yerba maté — a caffeinated holly native to subtropical South America.
- Ilex guayusa or guayusa — a caffeinated holly native to the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest.
- Kuding — a Chinese tisane made from I. kudingcha
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ilex vomitoria.|
|Wikispecies has information related to: Ilex vomitoria|
- "Taxon: Ilex vomitoria Sol. ex Aiton". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2011-05-09. Retrieved 2011-09-19.
- Cutler, Charles L. (2000). O Brave New Words!: Native American Loanwords in Current English. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 10, 163, 215. ISBN 978-0-8061-3246-4.
- "Yaupon Ilex vomitoria" (PDF). USDA Plant Guide.
- "Florida's Hollies". Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
- Martin, C.O.; Mott, S.P. (1997). "Section 7.5.10 Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria)". U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wildlife Resources Management Manual (PDF). Vicksburg, MS: U.S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station. Technical Report EL-97-16.
- "Ilex vomitoria". Oklahoma Biological Survey.
- Bioimages: Ilex vomitoria
- Wilford, JN (8 August 2012). "Ancient Energy Boost, Brewed From Toasted Leaves and Bark". New York Times.
- Crown PL, Emerson TE, Gu J, Hurst WJ, Pauketat TR, Ward T (August 2012). "Ritual Black Drink consumption at Cahokia". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 109 (35): 13944–9. doi:10.1073/pnas.1208404109. PMC 3435207. PMID 22869743.
- Hudson, C. M. (1976). The Southeastern Indians. University of Tennessee Press ISBN 0-87049-248-9.
- Gibbons, E. (1964). Stalking the Blue-eyed Scallop. David McKay. ISBN 0-911469-05-2.
- Flint, Harrison Leigh (1997). Landscape Plants for Eastern North America (2 ed.). John Wiley and Sons. pp. 282–283. ISBN 978-0-471-59919-7.
Names and Taxonomy
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