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Native Yaupon: America’s Only Caffeinated Plant

A Hearty Native That’s Easy to Brew but Hard to Beat!

Ilex vomitoria—the name sounds stomach churning, certainly not like the name of a plant you’d want in your garden or landscape. But don’t let its name fool you. Although its leaves and stems were harvested by Native Americans to make a caffeinated tea used in purification rituals (which included vomiting), Ilex vomitoria actually has no emetic properties. European settlers incorrectly believed the plant induced vomiting (hence its name) because of its close connection with the natives’ rituals. In other words, if you drink tea made from this plant, it won’t send you running to the bathroom.

But this plant’s hearty characteristics may send you running to your local nursery, where you’ll find this native of southeastern North America under the common name Yaupon Holly. In fact, its native status and overall reliability and appearance have made it a frequenter in many southern lawns and gardens. An evergreen shrub sometimes used in hedges or along foundations, Yaupon Holly has alternating oval-shaped or oblong glossy leaves with slightly serrated edges that grow along slender light-gray shoots.

Yaupon Holly thrives in a sunny exposure but can take some shade as well, and its height ranges anywhere from 4-20 feet, depending on the variety. In early spring the plant produces small whitish green inconspicuous flowers that give way to red berry-like fruit in the fall, a welcome snack for birds. These berries, which grow only on female plants, persist into the colder months, giving the shrub its festive feel as winter takes hold.

So, if you’re feeling the chill this winter, brew yourself some Yaupon Holly tea (yep, it’s still a thing), pour it into a travel cup, and head over to Lichtenfelt Nursery, where you’ll find a warm greeting and several varieties of Ilex vomitoria, including the petite Micron Holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Gremicr’), Dwarf Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’), and the stately Weeping Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’). We look forward to seeing you!

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