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SPECIES:  Ilex decidua
Possumhaw. Creative Commons image by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University,


SPECIES: Ilex decidua
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Sullivan, Janet. 1993. Ilex decidua. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
Updates: On 29 January 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: delicious holly to: possumhaw. Images were also added. ABBREVIATION: ILEDEC SYNONYMS: Ilex cuthbertii Small Ilex curtissii (Fern) Small Ilex decidua var. curtissii Fern. SCS PLANT CODE: ILDE COMMON NAMES: possumhaw deciduous holly swamp holly winterberry bearberry Curtiss possumhaw TAXONOMY: The scientific name of possumhaw is Ilex decidua Walt. [8, 20]. LIFE FORM: Tree, Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: Possumhaw is state-listed as threatened in Florida [45].


SPECIES: Ilex decidua
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Possumhaw is found throughout the southeastern United States, from Virginia west to southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and eastern Kansas; south to Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, south-central Texas, and northeastern Mexico [8,10].
Possumhaw distribution. 1977 USDA, Forest Service map provided by Thompson and others [46].

   FRES12  Longleaf - slash pine
   FRES13  Loblolly - shortleaf pine
   FRES14  Oak - pine
   FRES15  Oak - hickory
   FRES16  Oak - gum - cypress
   FRES17  Elm - ash - cottonwood

     AL  AR  FL  GA  IL  IN  KS  KY  LA  MD

   14  Great Plains

   K083  Cedar glades
   K084  Cross Timbers
   K089  Black Belt
   K111  Oak - hickory - pine forest
   K112  Southern mixed forest
   K113  Southern floodplain forest

    46  Eastern redcedar
    57  Yellow-poplar
    64  Sassafras - persimmon
    65  Pin oak - sweetgum
    73  Southern redcedar
    74  Cabbage palmetto
    75  Shortleaf pine
    76  Shortleaf pine - oak
    78  Virginia pine - oak
    79  Virginia pine
    80  Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
    81  Loblolly pine
    82  Loblolly pine - hardwood
    83  Longleaf pine - slash pine
    84  Slash pine
    87  Sweet gum - yellow-poplar
    88  Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak
    89  Live oak
    91  Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak
    92  Sweetgum - willow oak
    93  Sugarberry - American elm - green ash
    94  Sycamore - sweetgum - American elm
    96  Overcup oak - water hickory
    97  Atlantic white-cedar
    98  Pond pine
   101  Baldcypress
   102  Baldcypress - tupelo
   103  Water tupelo - swamp tupelo
   104  Sweetbay - swamp tupelo - redbay


Possumhaw is not a dominant or indicator species in habitat
typings.  It occurs in a variety of cover types and has a number of
associated species.  The most common overstory and midstory associates
not previously mentioned include red maple (Acer rubrum), winged elm
(Ulmus alata), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), southern red oak (Quercus
falcata), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), tree huckleberry
(Vaccinium arboreum), American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), American
holly (Ilex opaca), and yaupon (I. vomitoria).  Understory associates
include rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum), Alabama supplejack
(Berchemia scandens), trumpetcreeper (Campis radicans), grapes (Vitis
spp.), and greenbriers (Smilax spp.)  [16,18,21,23,26,27,34,37,40].


SPECIES: Ilex decidua
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: Possumhaw fruits are consumed by small mammals, songbirds and game birds, including eastern bluebirds, wild turkeys, and quail. They are also eaten by white-tailed deer [10,13]. White-tailed deer and cattle browse both leaves and twigs [2]. PALATABILITY: NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE: NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE: NO-ENTRY VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: OTHER USES AND VALUES: Possumhaw is planted as an ornamental [42]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Possumhaw is moderately tolerant to periodic flooding. Mature trees can withstand flooding of up to 35 percent of the growing season. Saplings have survived 105 days of flooding from March to July [11]. Near Alton, Illinois, possumhaw maintained vigorous growth through 4 years of continuous flooding, but declined in the fifth year [9]. It is more likely to survive in frequently flooded plots than is common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) or elms (Ulmus spp.) [37]. Possumhaw can suppress regeneration of timber species [10]. Control: Possumhaw is susceptible to stem injection of 2,4-D and glyphosate [10,22]. Possumhaw seedling counts were highest on bottomland hardwood sites that had been harvested and site-prepared by herbicide stem injection of all stems larger than 2 inches (5 cm) d.b.h. The lowest numbers of possumhaw seedlings occurred on sites that had been harvested and site-prepared by shearing [14]. When managing for white-tailed deer, burning or slashing possumhaw stems is preferable to herbicide application; the sprouts resulting from those treatments provide deer browse [10]. Possumhaw is a good choice in plantings for wildlife; individual plant fruit production is consistent from year to year, and a high percentage (greater than 70 percent) of individuals bear fruit [28]. Increase: Production of possumhaw browse was highest under medium- thinning intensity in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) plantations [2]. Possumhaw can be propagated by cuttings [42].


SPECIES: Ilex decidua
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Possumhaw is a native, large shrub or small tree. The average maximum height at maturity is 33 feet (10 m) [8,10,42]. The bark is smooth or slightly roughened [10,30]. The fruit is a four- to seven-seeded berry [3]. The national champion (1981), located in South Carolina, is 3 feet (9 m) in circumference and 42 feet (12.8 m) in height [8]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Possumhaw produces abundant, light seeds that are dispersed by frugivores. In bottomland hardwood forests in Texas, first-year seedling survivorship was good. Seedling survival increases with distance from a conspecific or sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) adult. Possumhaw seedlings grow slowly, about 0.4 to 0.8 inch (1-2 cm) per year [37]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Possumhaw is usually found on moist soils of floodplains, low woodlands, wet thickets, and along streams. It occurs infrequently on well-drained wooded slopes or sandy pineland ridges [3,8,43]. It is occasional in hydric hammocks in Florida [41]. It occurs in elevations of up to 1,180 feet (360 m) throughout its distribution [4]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Possumhaw is found in all successional stages. It colonizes areas that have been disturbed by fire, and it is found in old-growth bottomland hardwood forests [27,25]. Possumhaw was abundant in the third and fourth years after removal of a young green ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica)-American elm (Ulmus americana) stand [6]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Possumhaw flowers from March to May [4]. The fruits ripen in September and persist until the following spring [13]. Seedling emergence occurs before spring canopy development in early February, and continues through May [37].


SPECIES: Ilex decidua
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Possumhaw grows in a number of habitats, some of which may be subject to fire. Some resistance to fire is conferred by the ability to sprout after top-kill. Its main fire adaptation is the ability to colonize disturbed soils through animal-dispersed seed [27]. FIRE REGIMES: Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY: Tall shrub, adventitious-bud root crown Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)


SPECIES: Ilex decidua
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Possumhaw is damaged, top-killed, or killed by light- or moderate-severity fires [27,36]. After two prescribed fires in loblolly-shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) stands, possumhaw exhibited moderate mortality (up to 50 percent) after fires in cut-over sawtimber-sized stands, and low mortality after fires in pulpwood-sized timber [33]. High mortality (up to 100 percent) of stems less than 1 inch (2.54 cm) in diameter occurred after winter prescribed fire in a slash pine plantation [44]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT: NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: The number of possumhaw stems increased following prescribed spring fires in loblolly-shortleaf pine stands. Fruit production increased following fire, but since there was also a large increase in fruit production on control plots, it was difficult to separate the effects of fire from other effects [36]. Numerous possumhaw seedlings occured on loblolly-shortleaf pine plots that received two prescribed fire treatments [33]. Nine years after wildfire in a loblolly pine community, possumhaw did not occur on plots that had undergone surface fire only. Plots where fire crowning occurred were colonized by seedlings resulting from animal-dispersed seed [27]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE: NO-ENTRY FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: The mean, ash-free caloric value for possumhaw leaves is 5,311 calories per gram. This value can be used in calculations to predict heat release during fire on sites with possumhaw litter [12].


SPECIES: Ilex decidua
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In: Phillips, Douglas R., compiler. Proceedings, 4th biennial southern silvicultural research conference; 1986 November 4-6; Atlanta, GA. Gen. Tech. Rep. SE-42. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station: 120-128. [4200] 7. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 8. Godfrey, Robert K. 1988. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of northern Florida and adjacent Georgia and Alabama. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. 734 p. [10239] 9. Green, William E. 1947. Effect of water impoundment on tree mortality and growth. Journal of Forestry. 45(2): 118-120. [3718] 10. Halls, Lowell K. 1977. Possumhaw/Ilex decidua Walt. In: Halls, Lowell K., ed. Southern fruit-producing woody plants used by wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-16. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Region, Southern Forest Experiment Station: 44-45. [21490] 11. Hook, D. D. 1984. Waterlogging tolerance of lowland tree species of the South. Southern Journal of Applied Forestry. 8: 136-149. [19808] 12. Hough, Walter A. 1969. Caloric value of some forest fuels of the southern United States. Res. Note SE-120. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station. 6 p. [10517] 13. Hunter, Carl G. 1989. Trees, shrubs, and vines of Arkansas. Little Rock, AR: The Ozark Society Foundation. 207 p. [21266] 14. Hurst, George A.; Bourland, Thomas R. 1980. Hardwood density and species composition in bottomland areas treated for regeneration. Southern Journal of Applied Forestry. 4(3): 122-127. [7839] 15. Ivey, T. L.; Causey, M. K. 1984. Response of white-tailed deer to prescribed fire. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 12(2): 138-141. [8393] 16. 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R.; Fountain, E. A.; Neck, J. S. 1991. Woody vegetation of an old-growth creekbottom forest in north-central Texas. Texas Journal of Science. 43(2): 157-164. [15407] 26. Nixon, Elray S.; Willett, R. Larry; Cox, Paul W. 1977. Woody vegetation of a virgin forest in an eastern Texas river bottom. Castanea. 42: 227-236. [9898] 27. Oosting, Henry J. 1944. The comparative effect of surface and crown fire on the composition of a loblolly pine community. Ecology. 25(1): 61-69. [9919] 28. Billings, W. D.; Thompson, J. H. 1957. Composition of a stand of old bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California. Ecology. 38(1): 158-160; 1957. [446] 29. Pitts, T. David. 1979. Foods of eastern bluebirds during exceptionally cold weather in Tennessee. Journal of Wildlife Management. 43(3): 752-754. [19256] 30. Radford, Albert E.; Ahles, Harry E.; Bell, C. Ritchie. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 1183 p. [7606] 31. Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p. [2843] 32. Short, Henry L.; Epps, E. A., Jr. 1976. Nutrient quality and digestibility of seeds and fruits from southern forests. Journal of Wildlife Management. 40(2): 283-289. [10510] 33. Silker, T. H. 1961. Prescribed burning to control undesirable hardwoods in southern pine stands. Bulletin No. 51. Kirbyville, TX: Texas Forest Service. 44 p. [16898] 34. Smeins, Fred E., Hinton, Johnny Z. 1987. Vegetation of the loblolly-shortleaf pine-hardwood type, Angelina National Forest, Texas. In: Pearson, Henry A.; Smeins, Fred E.; Thill, Ronald E, compilers. Ecological, physical, and socioeconomic relationships within southern National Forests; 1987 May 26 - May 27; Long Beach, MS. General Technical Report SO-68. New Orleans, LA: United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station: 31-38. [10174] 35. Stickney, Peter F. 1989. Seral origin of species originating in northern Rocky Mountain forests. Unpublished draft on file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT; RWU 4403 files. 7 p. [20090] 36. Stransky, John J.; Halls, Lowell K. 1979. Effect of a winter fire on fruit yields of woody plants. Journal of Wildlife Management. 43(4): 1007-1010. [9660] 37. Streng, Donna R.; Glitzenstein, Jeff S.; Harcombe, P. A. 1989. Woody seedling dynamics in an east Texas floodplain forest. Ecological Monographs. 59(2): 177-204. [6894] 38. Thieret, John W. 1971. Quadrat study of a bottomland forest in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. Castanea. 36: 174-181. [9923] 39. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 1982. National list of scientific plant names. Vol. 1. List of plant names. SCS-TP-159. Washington, DC. 416 p. [11573] 40. Van Auken, O. W.; Ford, A. L.; Stein, A. 1979. A comparison of some woody upland and riparian plant communities of the southern Edwards Plateau. Southwestern Naturalist. 24(1): 165-180. [10489] 41. Vince, Susan W.; Humphrey, Stephen R.; Simons, Robert W. 1989. The ecology of hydric hammocks: A community profile. Biological Rep. 85(7.26). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Research and Development. 82 p. [17977] 42. Whaley, Jim. 1991. Ilex decidua `Warren's red'. American Nurseryman. 174(8): 66. [21078] 43. Wunderlin, Richard P. 1982. Guide to the vascular plants of central Florida. Tampa, FL: University Presses of Florida, University of South Florida. 472 p. [13125] 44. Silker, T. H. 1957. Prescribed burning in the silviculture and management of southern pine-hardwood and slash pine stands. In: Society of American Foresters: Proceedings of the 1956 annual meeting; [Date of conference unknown]; [Location of conference unknown]. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters: 94-99. 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