YAUPON HOLLY: THE BELOVED EVERGREEN OF FORT MATANZAS

YAUPON HOLLY: THE BELOVED EVERGREEN OF FORT MATANZAS

Welcome back, everyone!

As my first week of working at the park is coming to a close, I have met many amazing individuals that work in the park as rangers, volunteers and other interns. Everyone I have met has guided me towards the variety of native plant species as well as invasive species that live in the park. One species in particular that has captivated me the most is the Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria), it is both prevalent and historically significant to Fort Matanzas. This woody, broadleaf evergreen shrub, with its small leathery, bright green leaves, contributes significantly to the lush canopy visible along the park’s boardwalks, hammock, and salt marshes that make up Fort Matanzas. 

A Fort Matanzas boardwalk that inhabits Yaupon Holly trees on both sides of the walkway.
Closer picture of Yaupon Holly sitting on the boardwalk itself

As I delved deeper into the history of Yaupon Holly with the help of the rangers and volunteers, I discovered its rich cultural significance. Native American nations like the Timucuan and Seminole, revered this plant, referring to it as the “beloved tree,” big medicine,” and “the black drink.”Its leaves were utilized in traditional medicine, sacred ceremonies, and friendship rituals, highlighting its integral role in their communities. Remarkably, Yaupon Holly is the only indigenous source of caffeine in North America, comparable to South America’s Yerba Mate and Guayusa. However, it is important to note that the green seeds can be toxic! This is where the latin name “Ilex vomitare” comes into play, because if the tea is highly concentrated, vominiting will likely ensue.  

Golden silk spider and its web in between two Yaupon Holly trees

Walking through the boardwalk, I observed that Yaupon Holly’s dense foliage provides an excellent habitat for Golden Silk spiders (pictured on the left), anoles, and pollinators. Jim Gleason, a volunteer at the park, who led the walk, mentioned that these trees produce small berries (pictured on the right) that turn bright red in the fall. The berries are a favorite snack for game birds and songbirds like the Carolina Wren and Northern Cardinal. Ultimately, this tree provides not only a great local and natural source for caffeine but also a habitat to all the critters that call Fort Matanzas home. 

 

 

 

A Yaupon Holly tree with many green seeds

Learning about the Yaupon Holly has provided me with a deeper appreciation of native plant species Fort Matanzas has to offer and I hope this inspired you to obtain a more in depth look into the native plants in your parks as well. Below are some more pictures provided by the rangers. 

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