Leaf of the day: 50 (ish) Yaupon Holly Leaves

I am revisiting a few plants this week to fill in some gaps for the exhibition. Today the Yaupon Holly, another favourite tree of mine. It’s the tree of the nauseating Black Tea ritual which I wrote about here, in the post “Yaupon Holly, and a liquor that sorts the Men from the Boys”. Even if your Latin is rusty, the botanical name, Ilex vomitoria, gives the game away. The blog post will be printed for the exhibition and I felt this important Florida native needed some better representation than the one pencil drawing I had made. The trees at Leu differ slightly but I found a nice sprig of the weeping variety to paint on Saturday. These elegant trees still have some berries and are really so pretty, with tiny leathery leaves, the very longest on this sprig is only 1 inch long. There are also even tinier white flowers. I have painted two but they are difficult to spot.

This branch is from a particularly attractive weeping tree at Leu which grows in the Arid Garden, taken back in early December. Until recent pruning, the berry laden-branches cascaded right down to the ground, arching and criss-crossing so elegantly. The Arid Garden is undergoing some reconstruction at the moment, ousting some non arid species for some more desert loving plants. It will be very interesting to see how it develops. The frogs will have had a shock as their overgrown home near around the pond has now been razed to the ground, but I am sure they will have found some other accommodating damp spot nearby.

I would definitely plant a Yaupon Holly if I had a garden. Not only are they very attractive (and can be used as a substitute for box as a hedge), but when times are hard and coffee expensive, a chew on the leaves will give you that necessary caffeine hit, so valued by the Timucua Indians. I have read that as well as being brewed for “black tea”, the plant was used as an hallucinogen to “evoke ecstasies” but also, confusingly, the bark was used to treat nightmares?
That seems contradictory to me but in the mysterious and sometimes dangerous world of ethnobotany all is possible.

Yaupon Holly Sprig

Watercolour on Fabriano HP. 15″x9″

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  1. it’s just perfect! when you’ll finish this series you may edit a garden ilustrated encyclopedia with all your fab drawings.
    i’m almost imagining this particular one in my own hand…

  2. Interesting you’d pick this plant. I’m both an artist and a plant nut. I’d been reading up on Yaupon Holly this week and am planning to put one in my yard as part of my suburban permaculture/useful plants experiment. Apparently, it’s the only native North American source of caffeine. I wonder if the tea is palatable? I’d love to try it.

  3. That’s my new word for today – ethnobotany.


  4. I’m a little behind in my reading. I really hate to rush through your posts. I remain your fan! 🙂

  5. Thankyou so much B, your faith in my stamina is touching!! Unfortunately for me, the low boredom threshold would kick in by about page 5!..It would have to be a slim and select volume. How I do admire those artists who can stick at the same thing for weeks, months, years even..any moment now I will be breaking out and painting massive abstract canvases.. 🙂

  6. Thanks to all. Yaupon Holly is a very nice tree. It is possible to brew the black tea, without too many horrible side effects, I am told. I have chewed a few leaves with no ill effects, but sadly no particular boost in energy either.They are hard going 🙂

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