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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Possumhaw



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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22 comments:

  1. I love the name...I wonder what the history is...usually something quite colorful! It's a beautiful shrub/tree Phillip...it would brighten up the GOBN...thank you for the idea! Gail

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  2. I love these hollies. The berries almost seem translucent and so unlike the other hollies' berries. They grow wild around us, and really brighten up the winter landscape.

    Jan
    Always Growing

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  3. We don't have this species, but we have Ilex verticillata, (Canada Holly or Winterberry), another deciduous one, and a star of winter gardens and thickets. Love it love it love it!

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  4. This is a wonderful accessory for any winter garden. I am going to look if they will surviving in zone 5. I won't hold my breath on that. Maybe something to add to the greenhouse.

    Thank you for sharing this. Please stop by my garden sometime.

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  5. The name does pique interest and the tree definitely seems to be a great addition amidst the white and gray winter!

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  6. It is very nice, Phillip. It sways and flows like it's being touched by a gentle breeze:) I have a buddleia (butterfly bush) that flows like this, although it's not producing gorgeous berries! In fact, there's nothing on it at the moment. Makes me wish I had you Possumhaw right now:)
    I cut my bush back every year so it will 'fit' in the garden area that i've planted it in--otherwise it would grow taller & take over the area! You could always keep yours trimmed short if it suddenly has a growth spurt!!

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  7. This holly is a beauty in winter. I love the name too. I wonder if possums would come and eat the berries in the nursery where it was developed, hence the name??

    I have a diciduous holly in the front garden that only gets 4' tall and it is gorgeous too. I have the male around the corner of the house. They get along quite well like this becasue the girls are full of berries. The mockingbird and cardinals fuss about who gets dibs on the berries in early spring. Otherwise the berries are untouched. Too bad I forget which variety it is.

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  8. The holly is really pretty, especially for winter interest. I just tried to find the origin of the name, because it sounds like a Native American name. The only thing that I found is that the berries were used for medicinal purposes.

    Educational!

    Cameron

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  9. Bren, I think the possumhaw may not be as hardy but you might be able to use the winterberry holly instead.

    Lisa, thanks for bringing this up. I went back and added that to my post. I had read that possums like them and I forgot to say that.

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  10. We have a lot of those growing wild here, both in the general area (the Neuse River is close by) and on our farm. They are absolutely brilliant in the winter. I love the berries. They are so bright they look as though they have been lacquered.

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  11. Another tree I wish I could grow here. I love the name. Has a very folksy sound. Say what you will about botanical names. I love the romance of the old common names.
    Marnie

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  12. Hi Phillip, what a beauty, and next to the red tuteur makes a fabulous color echo. Those american hollies are good for pollinating other hollies. I have a blue princess with no prince and she berries faithfully each year. I do think you should limb it up, that would look so pretty and leave you more room underneath for planting. Good idea!
    Frances

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  13. How brilliant of you to paint the tuteur next to it an echoing red.

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  14. Hi,
    This does have beautiful berries, and 20 by 10 is quite big!

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  15. Phillip, where did you buy this one? Glen found a large one just behind our house in the woods. I never knew we had a native like that...I was awestruck. They sound like a pain to propagate so I may just buy one. How are you making it this winter? I'm about to climb the walls. LOL

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  16. Jennifer, I think I bought this one at Grassland before they went out of business. I read that they are difficult to propagate. If you can't find one locally, you might be able to get it from ForestFarm (a great online nursery!)

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  17. I agree that Possumhaw is a hilarious name. It does sound Native American like Cameron said. I laughed at your nervousness about planting it in the bed. I have some Oso Easy roses by PW right now taking over my beds. They need to be potted up and gracefully wander to and fro.

    Possumhaw reminds me of Pyracantha. Hate those thorns of Pyracantha though. My grand dog ate the Pyracantha berries one time. I panicked and called the poison control center. I told them my dog was having a fit to eat those berries.

    They laughed and told me it makes animals drunk. Birds fly erratic and comical paths after dining on them. And my grand dog got drunk. She belched and passed gas in her drunken stupor. She slept for hours which is very unlike a puppy bird dog.

    I like your possumhaw and its colorful addition.

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  18. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Phillip. Hope you have a good one today!

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  19. Happy Birthday, Phillip, with best wishes for many more happy returns.

    Jon at Mississippi Garden

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  20. Thanks for the birthday wishes! :)

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  21. I've always loved Possumhaw. I've usually only seen them in the wild though and in those cases, they never got as big as yours might. Usually they were a nice 6 ft or so. Yours looks great.

    I couldn't find possumhaw here so last spring I bought one in Texas and trekked it back here. Unfortunately I managed to kill it by forgetting to water it during a rather dry and very hot time. That truly bummed me out! Maybe next year.

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  22. Your possumhaw hollies look wonderful, Phillip! I've seen them growing wild around Austin, and Austin's Tom Spencer of Soul of the Garden" loves them so much his garden is named "Possumhaw Hollow".

    Because Elizabeth Lawrence talks of a completely different shrub called "Possumhaw Viburnum" I used that name to search. Google Books turned up a page in the Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico which says the name possum can mean false, and that possumhaw means they look like edible Haw viburnum.
    But that doesn't answer the question of whether possumhaw HOLLY was named because it looked like the edible possumhaw viburnum.

    (What a rattle of a comment! It's 33 degrees out and the wind is making me jittery. Looking up your lovely tree was a nice distraction!)

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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