Dahoon Holly / Christmas Berry
Ilex cassine
Family: Aquifoliaceae (Holly)

Dahoon Holly is an evergreen shrub or small tree with a rounded, dense crown and many bright red berries in the autumn. Its preferred habitat is wet soils along streams and swamps, sometimes sandy banks or brackish soils. Distribution is throughout the Escambia region, though scarsely beyond Crenshaw County, Alabama.

The leaves are evergreen, up to 3.5 inches long and nearly 2 inches broad; oblong or egg-shaped in outline, slightly thick and leathery; usually without teeth or spines (as is seen on the American Holly, I. opaca). But, if spines are evident they will be displayed on the upper half of the leaf. The leaf margin is often turned under; shiny dark green above and densely hairy beneath when young.

The flowers are small; four white petals with rounded tips, on short flower stalks, usually seen at the base of new growth leaves and emerging in early spring. Male and female flowers are on separate plants.

Fruit is bright red and berry-like (sometimes yellow or orange), about 1/4 inch in diameter, consisting of four narrow grooved brown nutlets enclosed by a mealy and bitter pulp. The fruit matures in autumn but usually remains attached throughout the winter.

The range of Dahoon Holly is extremely limited; southeastern North Carolina south to Florida and west to southern Louisiana; usually not found at elevations beyond 300 feet. The plant is also found in the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico and central Mexico.

This small tree is planted as an ornamental for its evergreen foliage and profuse red fruit and used in Christmas decorations. The common name apparently is of American Indian origin.

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