Thousands of years ago, people living in this area relied on native plants as a food source. Some of these, discussed in previous articles, consist of agarita berries, Texas persimmon, pecans, and Mexican plums. These fruits can be picked and eaten right off the plants, although most times they are more delicious made into a jelly or fruit pie. I enjoyed my first taste of Mexican plum jam this week and let me tell you it was heavenly! However, there are other native plants that produce fruits that can be harmful if ingested by humans. This week’s plant of the week, possumhaw holly, produces vibrant blood-red berries that are pretty to look at, but should never be eaten. Indigenous people had to develop the skill of recognizing poisonous berries from beneficial ones. This knowledge would be passed down through generations and was extremely important for the tribe’s survival.
Possumhaw holly, Ilex decidua, is a small tree that grows 8 to 12 feet tall. The trunk grows upright with smooth, thin, silver grey bark and twiggy horizontal branches. Its leaves are dark green, spoon-shaped and toothed around the edges. The top surface of the leaves are glossy and smooth. Possumhaw holly is deciduous, meaning that it will shed its leaves every winter. During these months, the female plants contribute a blaze of color to the winter landscape with their magnificent red berry display. These berries are the most distinctive part of the plant come November and make Ilex decidua a favorite winter ornamental amongst Texas gardeners.
Possumhaw holly is the widest ranging of all the hollies. It does well in most types of soil and once established it is drought resistant. It can grow in shade, however it will produce more fruit if grown in full sunlight. Its an important winter food source for native wildlife such as oppossums, raccoons, and songbirds.
So this holiday season, “deck your halls with possumhaw holly, Fa La La La La…”
Republished with permission of the Goldthwaite Eagle. By Savannah Lane.