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2015-01-01

Possumhaw is a NICE native plant for winter

NPSOT Special to the Courier

The Native Plant Society of Texas, Kerrville Chapter, suggests planting Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) for local planting. NPSOT would like homeowners and businesses to plant this native plant instead of some exotic. NPSOT is promoting Possumhaw as part of its NICE program: Natives Instead of Common Exotics.
Possumhaw, also known as Possumhaw Holly, Deciduous Holly or Deciduous Yaupon, and Winterberry, is a multi-trunked shrub or small tree with smooth, gray bark which grows to a height of 12 to 20 feet, or sometimes even 30 feet. "The profusion of red or orange berries which remain when the leaves are gone look almost like they're hanging in mid-air," Linda Bullard, Coordinator of the NICE campaign, said. "And they make a perfect natural Christmas decoration for the yard or home." The color will last all winter or until the berries are eaten by wildlife.
Possumhaw is native to Central and East Texas, where it is found in woodlands along fencerows, streamsides and seasonally wet areas, although its water requirement is actually low. It adapts to a wide variety of soil conditions (sand, loam, clay or caliche, acid or calcareous) and will grow well in either full sun or partial shade, but berry production will be greatest if it gets at least six hours of sun each day.
Possumhaw gets the "haw" part of its name from the reddish fruits that are similar to hawthorn fruit, and the "possum" part because they are a favorite food source for that peculiar animal. Raccoons and other mammals also like the berries, and they provide a real feast for songbirds and game birds. Although its small white flowers are not at all showy, butterflies have no trouble finding them in the spring. Deer may rub on this plant and may moderately browse the foliage, but they leave the berries for others.
Possumhaw is a popular small tree for landscaping because of its spectacular seasonal color. However, if color is what you're after, make sure to purchase a female tree, as only the females produce the gorgeous berries. Consider using Possumhaw for a burst of color instead of Pyracantha, Crape Myrtle, Purple-leaf Plum, ornamental plums, Bradford Pear or non-native large hollies.
To sustain our local ecosystem, native plants are essential, and many non-native plants are extremely detrimental. Native plants have lived here for centuries, have evolved to withstand our temperature and moisture extremes, and have supported the local wildlife by providing food and shelter for our native animals, birds, and insects. As they are forced to compete for resources, the native plants become fewer and fewer until they are crowded out or eaten to extinction.
The Native Plant Society of Texas, Kerrville Chapter, hosts monthly programs at the Riverside Nature Center. See npsot.org/kerrville for details.