Botanical Name: Ilex opaca
Common Names: American holly,
Ilex opaca is native to the eastern and south-central United States, from coastal Massachusetts south to central Florida, and west to southeastern Missouri and eastern Texas. It grows in a variety of soil types, but it is generally found in deep moist bottomlands. Moist woods, hedges and fields.
Ilex opaca is a medium-sized broadleaved evergreen tree growing on average to 10–20 m (33–66 ft) tall, and up to 30 m (98 ft) tall. Typically, its trunk diameter reaches 50 cm (20 in), sometimes up to 120 cm (47 in). The bark is light gray, roughened by small warty lumps. The branchlets are stout, green at first and covered with rusty down, later smooth and brown. The winter buds are brown, short, obtuse or acute.
The leaves are alternate, 5–7.5 cm (2.0–3.0 in) long and 2–4 cm (0.79–1.57 in) wide, stiff, yellow green and dull matte to sub-shiny above (distinctly less glossy than the otherwise fairly similar European holly Ilex aquifolium), often pale yellow beneath; the edges are curved into several sharp, spike-like points, and a wedge-shaped base and acute apex; the midrib is prominent and depressed, the primary veins conspicuous; the petiole is short, stout, grooved, thickened at base, with a pair of minute stipules. The leaves remain on the branches for two to three years, finally falling in the spring when pushed off by growing buds.
The flowers are greenish white, small, borne in late spring in short pedunculate cymes from the axils of young leaves or scattered along the base of young branches. The calyx is small, four-lobed, imbricate in the bud, acute, margins ciliate, persistent. The corolla is white, with four petal-like lobes united at the base, obtuse, spreading, hypogynous, imbricate in bud. The flower stem is hairy with a minute bract at base. Like all hollies, it is dioecious, with separate male and female plants; only female plants produce the characteristic red berries. One male can pollenize several females. Male flowers have four stamens, inserted on the base of the corolla, alternate with its lobes; filaments awl-shaped, exserted in the sterile, much shorter in the sterile flower; anthers attached at the back, oblong, introrse, two-celled, cells opening longitudinally. The pistil on female flowers has a superior ovary, four-celled, rudimentary in staminate flowers; style wanting, stigma sessile, four-lobed; ovules one or two in each cell.
The fruit is a small red drupe 6–12 mm diameter containing four seeds; it is often persistent into winter.
Branch full of ripe fruit
A ratio of three female plants to one male plant is required for ideal fruit production.
Subspecies and varieties:
*Ilex opaca subsp. arenicola (Ashe) A.E. Murray
*Ilex opaca var. laxiflora (Lam.) Nutt.
*Ilex opaca subsp. opaca
*Ilex opaca var. opaca
Succeeds in most soils so long as they are not water-logged. Fairly wind-resistant. Plants are hardy to about -25°c. A slow-growing and long-lived species in the wild, but it does not thrive or fruit well in British gardens. Plants do not thrive in a maritime climate. There are many named forms, selected for their ornamental value. The leaves remain on the plant for about 3 years, falling in the spring. Flowers are produced on the current year’s growth. Resents root disturbance, especially as the plants get older. It is best to place the plants into their permanent positions as soon as possible, perhaps giving some winter protection for their first year or two. Plants are very tolerant of pruning and can be cut right back into old wood if required. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
Edible Uses: The roasted leaves are used as a tea substitute[161, 177]. They do not contain caffeine. The drink was a very popular tea substitute during the American Civil war.
The berries are laxative, emetic and diuretic. They are used in the treatment of children’s diarrhoea, colic and indigestion. A tea made from the leaves has been used as a treatment for measles, colds etc. The leaves have also been used externally in the treatment of sore eyes, sore and itchy skin. A tea made from the bark was once used in the treatment of malaria and epilepsy. It has also been used as a wash for sore eyes and itchy skin.
A number of cultivars of this species are used for hedging. Fairly wind-resistant, this species is also used in shelterbelt plantings. A dye has been made from the berries – the colour is not given. Wood – light, tough, not strong, close grained, highly shock resistant, easily worked. A strikingly white wood, it is valued for use in veneers and inlay. It weighs 36lb per cubic foot. Too small for commercial exploitation, but it is valued for use in cabinet making and the interior finishes of houses, it is also used for making small items such as tool handles. The wood can also be stained to imitate ebony.
Known Hazards: Although no specific reports of toxicity have been seen for this species, the fruits of at least some members of this genus contain saponins and are slightly toxic. They can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and stupor if eaten in quantity. The fruits can cause violent vomiting.
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