Deciduous holly

Published 6:45 am Wednesday, March 1, 2023

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The calendar tells us spring is almost here even though we’ve had quite a bit of warm weather lately. A hallmark of Louisiana (early) spring has always been the stunning red swaths of the new buds and seeds of red maple / swamp maple / Acer rubrum. While those are visible all around the River Parishes, I’ve been surprised by another red tree – deciduous holly / possumhaw / Ilex decidua recently. (Those scientific names come in handy when we have so many common names for trees!)

“Deciduous” means it drops its leaves in winter, which is uncommon for hollies. (Remember the ones we decorated with in December?) So while the leaves are gone we can really see the berries standing out against a mostly brown backdrop. Besides being an exception to the normally evergreen hollies, it is also one that grows well in low-lying swampy areas. (It’s also called swamp holly.)

According to the USDA it grows as far south as Hammond / Mandeville but I assure you I’ve seen them growing on the side of Hwy 3127 from around the St. Charles Parish line through much of St. John. I’ve also noticed them on the side of I-10 in the Maurepas WMA on the west end of St. James Parish. (I took the picture for this article just off 3127 when I had to pull over and get a closer look.)

The berries are edible for a number of wild animals but may be toxic to humans. While it’s great to plant native trees (see Keep St. John Beautiful tree giveaway), you won’t often find these in nurseries. Instead, maybe just slow down a little and enjoy what nature planted right along the highways.

If you want to know more about gardening, landscaping, or anything else horticultural, contact the St. John & St. James Parishes Horticulture Extension Agent André Brock at Also, the LSU Ag Center’s website can be accessed at with lots of user-friendly information, including this article.