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Sunday, November 07, 2004

I have an ilex and I'm not afraid to use it 

Ilex vomitoria - it's not exactly a pretty name and conjurs up some fairly disgusting mental pictures, but it really is an attractive shrub. More commonly known as a Yaupon holly, this landscape plant comes in a variety of cultivars. Some are on par with a boxwood, some are larger and can grow as tall as 25 feet. The variety in my garden was about 6 feet tall when we moved in. Since it's planted alongside the front wall of our house I decided it really needed to be trimmed and trim it I did - all the way down to about 2 1/2 feet tall. This little guy, or should I say guys and girls since it takes both male and female to produce flowers, was very happy. It started reaching out its limbs to the sides once it was cut, which makes me believe it's probably a weeping variety. Not only did it start spreading out, it started sending runners underground and sprouting little babies everywhere. Consequently, the shrubs fill in the corner of the garden very nicely. But they do tend to get a little too aggressive so I have to keep it controlled by cutting some of the sprouts at the ground level. I am, however, encouraging some of the sprouts to grow toward the new garden I'm making. They will make a nice background filler as I begin planning it out.

Yaupon holly is very salt tolerant and adapts well to any soil. I truly have not babied these guys and they are still spreading, so it does support the any-soil adaptation theory. I am a little disappointed in the number of berries my plants produce, but it probably comes back to how little care I provide. I'm sure if I fed and watered them more, the berries would be more profuse.

When I was a kid the only holly I thought was available was the prickly kind but I always loved seeing the berries. I sure was happy to learn there are many many more varieties available and some are even native to the south such as the Yaupon. Now, I have learned that the berries are poisonous and can cause vomiting and diarrhea - kind of supports its name I guess. I've also learned that the young leaves can be browned and dried in the oven and then steeped in hot water to make Yaupon tea. Interesting, not that I'll try either one. Well, I learn something new every day. Happy Gardening.

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Thanks to Andrew Stenning who contributed the photograph for our masthead

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