Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Ilex vomitoria

Yaupon, Yaupon Holly, Cassina

Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family)

Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon)
Marcus, Joseph A.
Native from southern Virginia south to Florida and west to southeast Oklahoma and central Texas, Yaupon is a picturesque, upright, single- or multi-trunked shrub or small tree, growing 12-45 ft high but usually no higher than 25 ft. Female plants produce prodigious amounts of bright red, persistent berries. The leaves are dark green and small, usually less than 1 1/2 in. long. The pale gray bark is marked with white patches.

Yaupon Holly is often grown in residential landscapes and trimmed into hedges, with many cultivars popular: weeping forms, columnar forms, and dwarf forms. The ornamental twigs with shiny evergreen leaves and numerous red berries have been used as holiday decorations and make cheerful accents in the winter landscape. The leaves and twigs contain caffeine, and American Indians used them to prepare a tea, which they drank in large quantities ceremonially and then vomited back up, lending the plant its species name, vomitoria. The vomiting was self-induced or because of other ingredients added; it doesnt actually cause vomiting. Tribes from the interior traveled to the coast in large numbers each spring to partake of this tonic, and it was also a common hospitality drink among many groups. It remained popular as such among southeastern Americans into the 20th century and is still occasionally consumed today, with a flavor resembling another holly drink, the South American yerba mate, from Ilex paraguariensis. Yaupon is slow-growing and tends to get thick and twiggy on the inside, making it ideal for dense hedges but requiring careful pruning to shape it into a tree. You must have both a male and female plant to have berries. Nursery plants are typically female (fruiting) and are propagated by cuttings.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub , Tree
Root Type: Tap
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Elliptic , Ovate
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Pubescence: Glabrous
Leaf Margin: Crenate
Leaf Apex: Obtuse
Leaf Base: Rounded
Leaf Texture: Smooth
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Dioecious
Inflorescence: Axillary
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: 12-45 feet, but usually no higher than 25
Leaf: Alternate, simple, evergreen, oblong to elliptic, rounded at the tip, rounded at the base, finely round-toothed along the edges, smooth, shiny, up to 1 1/2 inches long, up to 3/4 inch wide; leaf stalks hairy, up to 1/8 inch long.
Flower: Male and female flowers borne on the same plant; male flowers 2-3 clustered in the axils of the leaves; female flowers 1-3 in the axils of the leaves.
Fruit: Drupes red, spherical, shiny, up to 1/4 inch in diameter, containing 4 nutlets.
Size Class: 12-36 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Apr , May


USA: AL , AR , FL , GA , LA , MS , NC , OK , SC , TX , VA
Native Distribution: S.e. VA to FL, w. to AR, s.e. OK, & s.c. TX
Native Habitat: Low, maritime woods; hammocks; sandy pinelands; limestone uplands.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Dry
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Moist or well drained, sandy, loamy, clay, limestone, or gravelly soils.
Conditions Comments: Yaupon is a versatile plant that tolerates drought and poor drainage, with best production of red fruit when shrub gets half a day of sun or more.


Use Ornamental: A densely branching, evergreen shrub or small tree that can take severe hedging and pruning. Females have decorative red berries. Many cultivars available, including weeping, columnar, and dwarf varieties.
Use Wildlife: Many species of birds eat the fruit but usually only in late winter after several freezes and thaws. Mammals eat the fruit as well, and the flowers attract insects. Birds employ the dense branches for nesting sites.
Use Medicinal: The young leaves and twigs contain caffeine and may be used to make a tea.
Use Other: Fruiting branches used as holiday decorations.
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Henrys Elfin butterfly
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: Moderate

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Ilex vomitoria is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
(Microtia elva)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2016-04-02