Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Possumhaw on the last day of 2012

with 21 comments

Click for greater clarity.

Click for better clarity and color and considerably greater size.

On the drizzly last day of 2012 we went to return a couple of DVDs to the Spicewood branch of the Austin Public Library. On the other side of Spicewood Springs Rd. from the library’s parking lot I saw some red that from a distance I thought might be the changing foliage of a flameleaf sumac, but Eve said she thought it was possumhaw “berries.” When I crossed the street to investigate I found out that she was right and that the red did come from the many small fruits of some possumhaws, Ilex decidua, that were just on the verge of shedding their leaves, as the species name says these smallish trees are wont to do. After driving the several miles home, I picked up my photo gear, came back, and took pictures until the continuing drizzle eventually led me to call it a day.

I’ve often enough photographed possumhaw fruits against a clear blue sky, and I’m certainly fond of that color contrast, but in today’s picture I like the way the bright red fruits and green leaves play off the muted tones of the tree trunks and the misty background.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2013 at 6:23 AM

21 Responses

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  1. For whatever reason, I often have trouble making the connection between what I see here and what I see “out there”. This is a perfect example. A couple of weeks ago a friend and I were at our closest nature preserve, admiring an abundance of shrubs/trees covered with little red berries. Neither of us knew what they were, although one of us should have had a clue. 😉

    In any event, I’m almost certain now they were possumhaw, and I’ll check that out this afternoon. They still had their leaves when I saw them. It will be interesting to see if that’s changed.


    January 6, 2013 at 8:14 AM

    • Happy excursion to you, especially if the sun has finally come out over there by the coast the way it finally has in Austin this morning. Chances are you did see some possumhaw a couple of weeks ago, though it’s also possible you saw the closely related yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, which also has small red fruits but retains its leaves through the winter. I find possumhaw more striking, especially when it has lots of fruits and no leaves to block our view.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2013 at 9:21 AM

  2. Another oddball common name for a plant. Ilex is holly, isn’t it? You captured lovely depth in this shot–almost like I could step around that bush. Very nice.

    Joan Leacott

    January 6, 2013 at 10:28 AM

    • Yes, Ilex is holly. The haw in the common name is the same haw that’s in hawthorn. The possum is short for opossum, so people must have thought those animals like to eat the fruits of these trees. That’s certainly plausible, as I recently saw a squirrel eat a couple of the similar little fruits on the yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, that’s outside my window.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    • Oh, and I actually did step around the possumhaw shown here as I looked for angles that let me avoid houses and fences not far away. I originally hoped to get pictures that looked foggier but I couldn’t find a way to include a more-distant background. I ended up “settling” for what you see here, but I was quite happy with this image and some of the others that I managed to get. I’m glad you like it too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2013 at 11:02 AM

  3. A striking photo, with the foliage and berries filling up the entire frame. How very interesting about “haw” and “hawthorn” and the possums. We have a lot of sumac here on Vancouver Island. I believe it is Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra).


    January 6, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    • Two differently red joys in nature at the end of the year in Austin: the leaves of flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata) and the fruits of possumhaw. It’s good that you get to enjoy Rhus glabra on Vancouver Island (which I’ve visited twice, in 1978 and 2000).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2013 at 2:54 PM

      • I’ve visited Texas three times, in 1955, 1977 and 2006; but I’ve never been to Austin. Everyone says it’s a lovely place.


        January 7, 2013 at 10:41 AM

  4. If the possumhaw loses its leaves in the winter whereas the yaupon doesn’t, isn’t this more likely to be yaupon? How does one tell the difference if the leaves are present?


    January 6, 2013 at 6:03 PM

    • You raise a good question. Part of the answer is that winter comes later to the region where I live than it does to most places in the United States, where deciduous trees have been bare for a couple of months alredy. Add to that the variation that’s common for any species from year to year: I’ll say that the possumhaws are running on the late side this year, and I’m basing that on some possumhaws in my part of town that I know from experience are possumhaws, but whose leaves are only now turning yellow and starting to drop. Another thing that can help distinguish possumhaw from yaupon is the somewhat different shape of the leaves.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2013 at 7:07 PM

  5. Really nice photo of the possum h. holly. This is another native that I have in my yard. Dug many years ago (3) from land that was going to become apt. complex abutting our property. Everything was bulldozed out and down. Made me feel sick. Anyway, those 3 have grown to be almost trees. They are bad about suckering as they spread. The birds have planted a few for me. Have you seen the one that has the orange berries? That is one of my must haves.


    January 6, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    • Good for you for your plant rescue. Native plant people here engage in rescues as well, some of which are coordinated to save as much as possible.

      Yes, I’ve seen the varieties with orange and even occasionally yellow fruit. Good luck finding some.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2013 at 7:09 PM

  6. It’s such a pleasure to see a massed image composed of small items. Berries are some of the most photogenic delights nature serves up to us.

    Mary Mageau

    January 7, 2013 at 4:25 AM

  7. […] distichum is called bald cypress because, as the possumhaw that you saw last time was about to do, it loses its leaves in the winter. Along the way to that arboreal baldness, the […]

  8. You could cover an armchair with fabric made from this. Lovely.

  9. […] of my work that morning. Normally I wouldn’t show you a possumhaw again so soon after you’ve seen one, also from a recent cloudy spell, but this view of Ilex decidua is different enough that I decided […]

  10. […] human mind till now. Possumhaw, already strange, is the common name of a tree, Ilex decidua, that you’ve seen here several times. Drupe is a botanical term that means, in the words of the Macmillan Dictionary, […]

  11. […] the same fringe of Spicewood Springs Rd. in far north Austin where I recently found a possumhaw full of fruit, I once photographed this little white snail on the glochids (and one spine) of a prickly pear […]

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