Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The best month for possumhaw

with 30 comments

Possumhaw and Fruit with Fleecy Clouds 1803

January is usually the best month to see bright red drupes on otherwise bare possumhaw trees, Ilex decidua. I photographed the fruit-laden possumhaw above on FM 2243 in Williamson County on January 13th, when fleecy clouds added texture to the sky and made for a red, white, and blue vista.

The picture below, which is from yesterday on the south side of East Howard Lane just west of Dessau Rd. in the eastern reaches of far north Austin, shows you how densely druped these trees can be (and it shows that I can cram all four cardinal directions into one sentence).

Dense Possumhaw Fruit 2584

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 19, 2016 at 5:20 AM

30 Responses

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  1. You are your own best GPS.


    January 19, 2016 at 6:30 AM

  2. Do you have any closeups of the drupes?

    Jim Ruebush

    January 19, 2016 at 6:34 AM

  3. A very special Ilex, to bear so many cardinal colored drupes and be the locus of so many cardinal directions at once.
    Do the drupes fall quickly? At Volo Bog we have Ilex verticillata that bears its fruits in November, I believe. You must visit them promptly, however, as they disappear right away.


    January 19, 2016 at 9:44 AM

    • Or, GPS, Gallivanting Painter Society 🙂


      January 19, 2016 at 9:45 AM

    • The tree in the second picture is one of several in a row pretty close together along that stretch of road, so it seems the highway people planted them there. I noticed the trees several years ago and have been going back each winter for reliably colorful pictures.

      One good thing about Ilex decidua is that it is indeed deciduous, so we get a mostly unimpeded view of all the drupes. Another good thing, to answer your question, is that the drupes generally stay on until the trees begin leafing out, typically at the end of January or a bit into February, so there’s plenty of time for pictures. One exception to the drupes staying on is the rapt attention that a flock of cedar waxwings can give them:


      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2016 at 10:02 AM

      • Great photos of one of my favorite plants, but are the fruits actually drupes. I just went out and took a couple apart and they appear to have four to five “seeds” in the ones I found. As you said yesterday always question.

        Sue M

        January 19, 2016 at 12:12 PM

        • You’ve raised a great question, Sue. I went to Shinners and Mahler’s Flora of North Central Texas, which at over 1600 pages is the most authoritative book I have. There I found the fruit of the genus Ilex described as “a small drupaceous berry… usually with 4 stones.” The description definitely says berry, but the adjective drupaceous is there too, and when I looked up drupaceous in the book’s glossary I found this definition: “pertaining to, or of the nature of a drupe.” I don’t know what to make of that. It sounds like the fruit has characteristics of both a drupe and berry. If I can get a clarification from a botanist, I’ll update this comment.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 19, 2016 at 12:34 PM

      • Oh, yes. And there is little more charming in nature than a flock of Cedar Waxwings murmuring amongst themselves as they work over a drupey tree.


        January 19, 2016 at 5:38 PM

        • The bird in the picture I linked to was part of a flock. Together the waxwings cleaned the possumhaw of all its fruit.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 19, 2016 at 10:08 PM

  4. Interesting plant and I love the color scheme you brought together in your image.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    January 19, 2016 at 12:42 PM

    • As someone born on the 4th of July, I guess I’m particularly attuned to red, white, and blue.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2016 at 12:51 PM

  5. I must have mentioned it before, maybe not, but the possumhaw resembles our native Ilex verticillata- the winterberry which also becomes covered with bright red drupes and is quite fruity at this time as well. We are thinking of incorporating one or two into the yard for winter beauty and additional bird feed.

    Steve Gingold

    January 19, 2016 at 6:47 PM

  6. Another amazing photo! Loved the first one more. 🙂


    January 19, 2016 at 11:16 PM

  7. The possumhaw is so beautiful. I’m going to have to range a little farther afield to see it, I think. On the other hand, we have plenty of yaupon — Ilex vomitoria — and it seems to have more than the usual number of fruits this year. I must say — looking for a cardinal in those trees would be like a botanical version of “Where’s Waldo?”

    I remember being puzzled by the Ilex vomitoria drupes in the past. I took a look at the Wiki for yaupon, and found this: “The fruit is a small round, shiny, and red (occasionally yellow) drupe 4–6 mm diameter containing four pits, which are dispersed by birds eating the fruit.”

    Lots of references use phrases like “usually one seed” for drupes, implying multiples. I honestly don’t know if this is the answer, but it seems so:

    “In some cases the drupe is polycarpellary, each carpel producing a stone. The fruit then is like a berry, with more than one seed, but each seedlike body is a stone. The elderberry (Sambucus) is a berry-like drupe with three small stones; the huckleberry has usually ten such small stones in each fruit.”

    “The stony seeds make huckleberries crunchier. If you want to get technical, blueberries are true berries whereas huckleberries are drupes, but they are also an exception to the drupe rule by having 10 seeds not one, like an olive.”


    January 20, 2016 at 6:18 PM

    • One difference, as you know, between the yaupon and the possumhaw is that the yaupon retains its leaves, and those leaves make it harder to get a clear view of the little fruits. On the plus side, the green of the yaupon’s leaves make a nice contrast with the red of the fruit.

      Sue Wiseman (above) and you have both stressed the “usually” in “usually one seed” as part of the definition of a drupe, which is good, because some books are sloppy and leave out the “usually.” I’d run across the word nutlet but hadn’t paid enough attention to it; it’s important for understanding the fruits of the yaupon and possumhaw. Thanks to the two of you for elucidating this.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2016 at 8:04 PM

  8. […] variant: sometimes the little fruits of the possumhaw tree, Ilex decidua, are orange rather than the red you saw two days ago. That was obviously true for this possumhaw that I photographed on January 13th along TX 29 near […]

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