Tree Species Highlight

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Ilex decidua (deciduous holly, possumhaw)



By Ryan Ochsner, Urban Forestry Coordinator

Writings about this plant typically focus on its prized winter interest through a show stopping display of brightly colored berries. No doubt about it, once the deciduous holly sheds its leaves in early winter, the hearty display of bright red berries is a real eye catcher. The berries are held close to the branches, boldly defining the structure of this small tree. These berry laden branches remind me of something you’d see adorning a cut flower arrangement.

Though the abundant berries get a lot of the attention, I typically use the possumhaw (Ilex decidua) for its form and size. Planning on a mature height of around 12 feet, I find that it makes a nice vertical element near the corner of a structure. If you have a large landscape area between your house and the front sidewalk, a multi-trunk possum haw may work great for this area. It will be branched in a way that does not block windows but the red berries that persist through the winter months will be highly visible from inside the house. I also like to work this into beds around places where people will gather such as a patio or deck as it’s at a very nice scale for up close encounters. When using it in these types of spaces be sure to give it enough room for the canopy to mature to about 8 to 12 feet wide. Essentially I find that anywhere you could use a medium or large size crape myrtle, the possumhaw is a great alternative. For creativity, diversity, and eye catching winter interest, consider the possumhaw next time you’re thinking crape myrtle.

(Photos taken at Edmond's Margaret Annis Boys Centennial Arboretum and the Oklahoma Botanical Garden in Stillwater)
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