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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - February 15, 2007

From: Buda, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Differentiating between Iles decidua and Ilex vomitoria
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Is there any way to tell a male possum haw holly from a female? I have a possum haw that never lost all of it's leaves and has no berries. Could it be a male?

ANSWER:

First of all, Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) and Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) look very similar, except that yaupon is evergreen. Perhaps you have a yaupon tree and that is why your tree still has leaves. Both trees are dioecious (having flowers with male structures and flowers with female structures on separate trees).

Although there could be reasons a female plant would not produce berries (e.g., no male trees near enough to provide pollen or some environmental cause such as a late freeze or heavy rains), there is a good chance that you have a male tree since you had no fruit. However, you need to see the flowers to tell for sure. The male flowers have functional stamens producing pollen. The female flowers have stamens that produce no pollen. Even though they are dioecious plants, they aren't always completely so. The female flowers generally have nonfunctioning stamens, but sometimes you will find perfect flowers—those with both a functioning pistil and also with stamens producing pollen.

You can see drawings of male and female flowers of possumhaw and yaupon on the USDA Plants Database. Note that the female flower has an enlarged ovary and stamens that are slender with no pollen. The male flowers have stamens that are fully developed with pollen. You can look at the blossoms in the spring (March, April, May) when both trees bloom to determine whether your tree is male or female.

 

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