It’s a sunny January afternoon here in Austin, a clear and cool fifty four degrees. My garden is still confused from the warmer days of seventy degrees last week. Roses, narcissus, mums and cyclamen are happily blooming even though most nights the temperature drops down into the thirties.
These variable highs and lows in January may damage tender plants but we can always count on a few of our outstanding native trees to thrive this time of year.
When my son was in elementary school he learned his first official latin name for a plant. We have a shrubby native tree here in Central Texas, the Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, that is very hardy and commonly found growing along roadsides, as well as in residential landscapes. All small boys seem to be highly amused by anything that names a bodily function, therefore this “vomit tree” became a very popular subject in second grade.
Native Americans would steep the leaves and bark of the Yaupon and prepare a ceremonial tea. The brew contained a high dose of caffeine and when a large quantity was consumed by the participants they would vomit, hence the name “vomitoria.” Surprisingly, it was served as a hospitality beverage at colonial tables and enjoyed well into the 20th century, I assume in smaller quantities to avoid stomach distress.
Although the boys were infatuated with the evergreen speciman, I have always appreciated it’s sister tree the Possumhaw Holly, Ilex decidua. This variety drops it’s leaves in winter revealing copious red berries along the exposed gray branches. The brilliant display of fruit is a vibrant highlight in the winter garden and attracts songbirds searching for a tasty meal.
This is one of my favorite Possumhaw Holly trees growing beside the observation tower at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.” Kahlil Gibran
remember, goodness grows,