Wednesday, January 21, 2009


It may have a funny name but Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) is a dazzling addition to the winter garden.

A deciduous holly, the dark green leaves turn bright yellow in the fall and shed before brilliant red-orange berries appear in November or December. The berries persist throughout winter. They seem to be unappetizing to birds but I read that birds like them after they have frozen and thawed. Possums too are said to like the berries, so maybe that is where the name comes in.

It may be a good thing if birds don't like to eat the Possumhaw berries because they do wonders to enhance a bleak grey garden. Only the female plants produce the berries and they must be pollinated. I only have one plant so I suspect that it is pollinated by Ilex opaca (American Holly) which reside on the opposide end of our property.

Possumhaw can grow up to 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. This makes me nervous as I planted this one in the perennial/shrub border where space is at a minimum. I've seen photos of them limbed up and resembling standards (they are often referred to as trees). I've had this one planted for at least three years and growth appears to be very slow.

They are easy to grow and prefer moist, acidic soil but they tolerate alkaline soils equally well. They are also tolerant of wet conditions. There are many varieties available. I want to say that this particular variety is "Warren's Red" but I'm not certain about that.

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