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.