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The red fruit of possum-haw.

Possum-haw holly is a southern deciduous shrub that can grow tree-like in its native habitat. In the Midwest if reaches 10 to 12 feet high but in the south it can be 20 to 30 feet high. Dark green foliage turns brownish-yellow in fall before dropping. Early white flowers appear before the leaves. Female plants will produce bright red, persistent fruit. Requires male and female plant to produce fruit.

Botanical name:

Ilex decidua

All Common Names:

Possum-haw, Possumhaw, Swamp Holly

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Massing

Size Range:

  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil,
  • Wet soil


  • Occasional drought,
  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

Season of Interest:

  • Early winter,
  • Mid winter,
  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall,
  • Late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Round,
  • Thicket-forming,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

More Information:

Size and Form

10 to 15 feet high and wide in the Midwest with an upright to rounded form.
Plants sucker to form small colonies.

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun to light shade.  Tolerant of wet, alkaline soil.
Grows in wet sites in natural habitat but found in shady wooded sites.
A male plant will be needed to pollinate female plants so fruit can be produced.
Place in a protected site as this shrub may not be fully hardy in zone 5.

Disease, pests and problems

No serious problems.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to the southeastern United States and southern IL and IN
Common in wet areas.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is  gray and fairly smooth when young, becoming rougher with age.
Stems often angled, developing short spurs. 
Root suckers can produce small colonies.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate, oval to lancolate leaves; 11/2 to 3 inches long with toothed, scalloped margins.
Leaf tip is blunt and tappers to purplish, grooved petiole. Leaves tend to be clustered toward end of stems.
Dark green in summer; little to no fall color.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Inconspicuous white flowers; male and female flowers on separate plants.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Bright red berry-like fruit on the female plant matures in autumn and persists throughout  winter.
Male plants are required for pollination of females to produce fruit.



Location of Ilex decidua (Possum-haw) at the Arboretum