Dahoon holly.JPG

Dahoon holly

Ilex cassine

Do you have a low spot in your yard that is prone to summer flooding? Choosing appropriate plants for such wet soil may be a challenge, unless you try some attractive native wetland plants. Dahoon holly is a small tree ideal for mucky, even flooded, organic soils. This tree typically reaches a height of 30 feet with a 12-foot spread. The evergreen leaves have a smooth texture with serrate edges near the tips. After blooming inconspicuous, cream-colored flowers, roughly half of dahoon holly trees produce bright red, half-inch fruits. Not every dahoon holly will produce the trademark holly fruits (technically “drupes”) because only the trees with female flowers can develop them. Male trees still blossom, but their flowers function to release pollen. Therefore, to add that pop of color to your yard, make sure to plant at least one male and one female tree.

Once in awhile our beautiful native dahoon holly may be mistaken for an invasive species look-alike. Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) is also called Florida holly, although it is actually a member of the poison ivy family (Anacardiaceae). This infamous exotic plant was introduced to Florida as an ornamental in the early 1800’s. Brazilian pepper is easily recognized as a densely-growing, tall, tangled shrub with bright red fruits. The occurrence of similar red clusters on dahoon holly may lead someone to think it is Brazilian pepper; however, the structure of dahoon holly as a small tree is quite different from Brazilian pepper’s dense, leggy growth habit. Various conservation groups in Florida fight to stop the spread of Brazilian pepper in natural habitats. For those south Florida residents who enjoy a splash of red fruits in their home landscape, please select the dahoon holly and keep out the Brazilian pepper. Normal fruiting time is fall to winter, but Dahoon holly’s fruits started drawing attention in July at Naples Botanical Garden.

Author: Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden

Originally published in the News-Press