Content Detail

Possum-haw holly is a southern deciduous shrub that can grow tree-like in its native habitat. In the Midwest it reaches 10 to 12 feet high but in the south it can grow to  20 to 30 feet high. Dark green foliage turns brownish-yellow in fall before dropping. Early white flowers appear before the leaves. Female plants will produce bright red, persistent fruit, but male and female plants are required to produce fruit.

  • Family (English) Holly
  • Family (botanic) Aquifoliaceae
  • Tree or plant type Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil, Wet soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, clay soil, Occasional drought, Occasional flooding, Road salt, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Multi-stemmed, Round, Thicket-forming, Upright
  • Growth rate Moderate

Size and Form:

In the Midwest, this plant grows 10 to 15 feet high and wide with an upright to rounded form. Plants sucker to form small colonies.

Native geographic location and habitat:

Native to the southeastern United States and southern Illinois and Indiana. Common in wet areas.

Bark color and texture:

Bark is gray and fairly smooth when young, becoming rougher with age. Stems are often angled, developing short spurs. Root suckers can produce small colonies.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Leaves are simple, alternate, oval to lanceolate and 1 1/2 to 3 inches long with toothed, scalloped margins. The leaf tip is blunt and tapers to a purplish, grooved petiole. Leaves tend to be clustered towards the end of stems. Color is dark green in summer, with little to no fall color.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Inconspicuous white flowers with male and female flowers on separate plants.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Bright red berry-like fruit on the female plant matures in autumn and persists throughout  winter. Male plants are required for pollination of females to produce fruit.

Plant care:

Possum-haw holly does best in full sun to light shade. It is tolerant of wet, alkaline soil and grows in wet sites in its natural habitat, but in shady wooded sites. A male plant will be needed to pollinate female plants so fruit can be produced. Place in a protected site as this shrub may not be fully hardy in zone 5.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

No serious problems.


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