Scientific name: Ilex vomitoria
Common names: Yaupon, yaupon holly
Nativity: Southeastern United States, and — fascinating these disjunct situations — a small area of Mexico, south of the Yucatan.
Location: Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina
Date: March 8, 2016 (top photo), October 2015 (bottom two)
Notes: Yaupon is a popular landscape plant in the Southeast. It adapts to all sorts of growing conditions, takes well to pruning, and female plants have attractive red berries for most of the year. There are cultivars that suit many different design scenarios.
An interesting and not particularly well known tidbit about this plant is that it has caffeine. The vomitoria part of its scientific name might make you think twice about consuming it, but historically yaupon has been used as a daily beverage the same way we use black tea or coffee today. It seems to be the dosage that makes the difference — you’ll throw up if you make the tea too strong, or drink too much of it. Or maybe as some say, the association with vomiting has nothing to do with this plant at all, but with others that were blended with it when it was used ceremonially.
Because it is easy to grow and native to the United States, there has been some interest in bringing back the habit of its consumption. One company in Texas was recently featured on NPR. Don’t be surprised to see yaupon tea in a restaurant near you soon!
You can listen to the program here: Here’s the Buzz on America’s Forgotten Native ‘Tea’ Plant
Weeping cultivars have the most caffeine of all the I. vomitoria cultivars, according to Green Deane. His posts about various Ilex brews have a lot more detail if you’re interested in making the tea yourself.
Yaupon holly berries become more translucent as they freeze and thaw a few times over the winter. Some types of wildlife prefer to have them prepared by Nature this way. (The berries are toxic to humans.) Yaupon holly is a host plant for the brown and black butterfly, Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici). This butterfly’s big eyes, and antennae that look like dotted lines of black and white, make it a very cute little visitor.