Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Winterberry: yes and no

with 16 comments

Possumhaw with Fruit and Nest 0104

Click for greater clarity.

Ilex decidua is a small tree that I’ve usually called possumhaw, but another vernacular name is winterberry. The winter part is true enough, as the tree’s many small but bright fruits typically hang on through January and February and brighten those bleak months. Technically speaking, however, the fruits are drupes, not berries.

This photograph is from January 20th in the parking lot of the H.E.B. supermarket on Wells Branch Parkway near the Austin-Pflugerville border. Notice the loose nest at the lower right.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 21, 2014 at 6:04 AM

16 Responses

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  1. hmmm…there’s a candle scent called winterberry. I wonder if it comes from this?


    February 21, 2014 at 6:15 AM

    • I wasn’t aware of those candles, but an Internet search turns up lots of hits. I read the descriptions of some of them, and although the labels sometimes include a picture of what look like winterberries, I didn’t seen any statement about the scent of winterberries. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed any aroma from them, but I’ll try to take a closer sniff the next time I’m near one of these trees.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 21, 2014 at 7:39 AM

  2. Possumhaw holly. It’s very attractive but, seemingly, not a drupe that a human would want to eat. Do you ever see or hear possums feasting on the fruit?


    February 21, 2014 at 6:48 AM

  3. Your winterberry reminds me of the crabapple trees around here…same look to the branching and drupes.

    According to these folks, http://theseedsite.co.uk/fruits.html, drupes are a common fleshy fruit.

    I am feeling droopy this morning. I need to get up and eat something then go downstairs and exercise. Weights routine today. Making some chili sauce later. No drupes will be harmed.

    Jim in IA

    February 21, 2014 at 7:28 AM

    • There’s nothing better, I always say, than possumhaw drupes to lift one’s droopy spirits.

      The page you linked to is a good botanical primer on the types of fruits. One type is the pome, and that name made me think that someone could write a poem about a pome. A quick search showed that someone already has:


      Steve Schwartzman

      February 21, 2014 at 8:03 AM

      • It is rare to find something that hasn’t already been done.

        My contribution from the intertube…

        Ode To Reading Pomes

        Pomes are fun to read
        But only if
        they aren’t

        Anonymous McIncognito

        Jim in IA

        February 21, 2014 at 10:12 AM

  4. when i saw this, i thought, ‘youpon.’ i’ve not seen those in many many years! thanks for transporting me back!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    February 21, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    • The only adjustment I’d make to your time machine, Lisa, is that these fruits are on a possumhaw, a close relative of yaupon, which is Ilex vomitoria. The possumhaw is Ilex decidua, which is indeed deciduous and therefore gives us a clear view of all its fruits. The leaves that stay on a yaupon make it harder to see the fruits. Technicalities aside, I’m happy to have been a transporter in time for you. Snow pictures that I’ve been seeing in other people’s pictures have similarly taken me back to my childhood in New York.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 21, 2014 at 10:23 AM

      • an old timer in lousiana once told me that the indians (catahoula parish) gave the ilex vomitoria drink to the young, and if they could stomach it, they made their formal passage into adult life! poor lads!

        your feedback is always interesting!

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        February 21, 2014 at 10:43 AM

        • You’re most welcome. I’ve read about various ways the Indians used yaupon. Here’s a relevant passage from the Wikipedia article on yaupon (though I can’t vouch for its accuracy):

          “Native Americans used the leaves and stems to brew a tea, commonly thought to be called asi or black drink for male-only purification and unity rituals. The ceremony included vomiting, and Europeans incorrectly believed that it was Ilex vomitoria that caused it (hence the Latin name). The active ingredients, like those of the related yerba mate and guayusa, are actually caffeine and theobromine, and the vomiting either was learned or resulted from the great quantities in which they drank the beverage coupled with fasting. Others believe the Europeans improperly assumed the black drink to be the tea made from Ilex vomitoria when it was likely an entirely different drink made from various roots and herbs and did have emetic properties.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 21, 2014 at 12:16 PM

  5. how beautiful against that blue sky !!!


    February 21, 2014 at 11:51 AM

  6. […] Great Hills Park, where I photographed this possumhaw, Ilex decidua. Its fruit is less dense than the one you saw last time, but on the other hand that possumhaw was part of the landscaping along the edge of a shopping […]

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