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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dahoon holly



Dahoon holly, originally uploaded by Elizabeth Smith.

Dahoon holly is a small, columnar tree often used in landscaping here in southwest Florida. Now that the berries are turning color, I’ve been noticing it in the wild as well, especially along roads that border wooded areas of pine and maple. Not only do the vibrant red berries catch my eye, but the pale gray trunks distinguish it from the noxious and invasive Brazilian pepper shrubs with similar-looking fruit.

I have always wondered what the word “dahoon” meant. Was it someone’s name? A place?   Daniel F. Austin in Florida Ethnobotany explains that it may derive from a French corruption of the Catawba word yaupon.  Before I confuse the issue further, There is a yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) that was thought to be used by native Americans in a ceremonial black drink. And yes, it’s said to induce vomiting.

Because the yaupon holly is similar to the Dahoon holly, Linnaeus grouped them together in the mid 1700's, which caused some classification muddiness. It’s thought that the French began referring to the slightly different holly as houx d’Ahon; Ahon being an altered form of yaupon (houx means holly in French). D’Ahon became Dahoon, and hundreds of years later we still call it dahoon holly.

Dahoon holly provides food for birds and small mammals, and bushy cover for smaller bird species. The trees are dioecious, which means that a tree is either male or female, with the female producing fruit. The berries ripen gradually, revealing shades of light yellow-green to amber to bright red, a feast for the eyes as well!

You can click on the caption above to view it larger on my Flickr photostream.