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Ilex vomitoria, commonly known as yaupon (/ˈjɔːpɒn/) or yaupon holly, is a species of holly that is native to southeastern North America.[1] The word yaupon was derived from its Catawban name, yopún, which is a diminutive form of the word yop, meaning "tree".[citation needed] Another common name, cassina, was borrowed from Timucua[2] (despite this, it usually refers to Ilex cassine). The Latin name comes from an incorrect belief by Europeans that the plant caused vomiting in certain ceremonies.

Ilex vomitoria
Ilex vomitoria.jpg
Foliage and fruit
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Aquifoliales
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Genus: Ilex
I. vomitoria
Binomial name
Ilex vomitoria
Ilex vomitoria range map.jpg
Natural range

The plant was traditionally used by Native Americans to make a tea containing caffeine. The plant is the only known indigenous plant to North America that produces caffeine. The plant is also used heavily for landscaping in its native range.


Yaupon holly is an evergreen shrub or small tree reaching 5–9 meters tall, with smooth, light gray bark and slender, hairy shoots. The leaves are alternate, ovate to elliptical with a rounded apex and crenate or coarsely serrated margin, 1–4.5 cm long and 1–2 cm broad, glossy dark green above, slightly paler below. The flowers are 5–5.5 mm diameter, with a white four-lobed corolla. The fruit is a small round, shiny, and red (occasionally yellow) drupe 4–6 mm diameter containing four pits, which are dispersed by birds eating the fruit. The species may be distinguished from the similar Ilex cassine by its smaller leaves with a rounded, not acute apex.[3][4][5][6][7]

Habitat and rangeEdit

I. vomitoria occurs in the United States from the Eastern Shore of Virginia south to Florida and west to Oklahoma [6] and Texas. A disjunct population occurs in the Mexican state of Chiapas.[1] It generally occurs in coastal areas in well-drained sandy soils, and can be found on the upper edges of brackish and salt marshes, sandy hammocks, coastal sand dunes, inner-dune depressions, sandhills, maritime forests, nontidal forested wetlands, well-drained forests and pine flatwoods.[3]


An eastern bluebird eating the bright red berries from an Ilex vomitoria.

The fruit are an important food for many birds, including Florida duck, American black duck, mourning dove, ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail, wild turkey, northern flicker, sapsuckers, cedar waxwing, eastern bluebird, American robin, gray catbird, northern mockingbird, and white-throated sparrow. Mammals that eat the fruit include nine-banded armadillo, American black bear, gray fox, raccoon and skunks. The foliage and twigs are browsed by white-tailed deer.[3]

Cultivation and usesEdit

Human consumptionEdit

Native Americans used the leaves and stems to brew a tea, commonly thought to be called asi or black drink for male-only purification and unity rituals. The ceremony included vomiting, and Europeans incorrectly believed that Ilex vomitoria caused it (hence the Latin name). The active ingredients, like those of the related yerba mate and guayusa plants, are actually caffeine and theobromine,[8][9] and the vomiting either was learned or resulted from the great quantities in which they drank the beverage coupled with fasting.[3][10] Others believe the Europeans improperly assumed the black drink to be the tea made from Ilex vomitoria when it was likely an entirely different drink made from various roots and herbs and did have emetic properties.[11]

Native Americans may have also used the tea infusion as a laxative.[12] Recently, the process of drying the leaves for consumption has been "rediscovered" by modern Americans and yaupon tea is now commercially available.[13][14][15]


Ilex vomitoria is a common landscape plant in the Southeastern United States. The most common cultivars are slow-growing shrubs popular for their dense, evergreen foliage and their adaptability to pruning into hedges of various shapes. These include:

  • 'Folsom Weeping' – weeping cultivar
  • 'Grey's Littleleaf'/'Grey's Weeping' – weeping cultivar
  • 'Nana'/'Compacta' – dwarf female clone usually remaining below 1 m in height.
  • 'Pride of Houston' – female clone similar to type but featuring improvements in form, fruiting, and foliage.
  • 'Schilling's Dwarf'/'Stokes Dwarf' – dwarf male clone that grows no more than 0.6 m tall and 1.2 m wide.[16]
  • 'Will Fleming' – male clone featuring a columnar growth habit.

See alsoEdit

  • Ilex paraguariensis or yerba mate – a caffeinated holly native to subtropical South America.
  • Ilex guayusa or guayusa – a caffeinated holly native to the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest.
  • Kuding – a Chinese tisane made from I. kudingcha


  1. ^ a b "Ilex vomitoria". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 2011-09-19.
  2. ^ Cutler, Charles L. (2000). O Brave New Words!: Native American Loanwords in Current English. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 10, 163, 215. ISBN 978-0-8061-3246-4.
  3. ^ a b c d "Yaupon Ilex vomitoria" (PDF). USDA Plant Guide.
  4. ^ "Florida's Hollies". Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
  5. ^ Martin, C.O.; Mott, S.P. (1997). "Section 7.5.10 Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria)". U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wildlife Resources Management Manual (PDF). Vicksburg, MS: U.S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station. Technical Report EL-97-16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-06-11.
  6. ^ a b "Ilex vomitoria". Oklahoma Biological Survey.
  7. ^ "Ilex vomitoria". Bioimages. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  8. ^ Wilford, JN (8 August 2012). "Ancient Energy Boost, Brewed From Toasted Leaves and Bark". New York Times.
  9. ^ Crown PL, Emerson TE, Gu J, Hurst WJ, Pauketat TR, Ward T (August 2012). "Ritual Black Drink consumption at Cahokia". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 109 (35): 13944–9. doi:10.1073/pnas.1208404109. PMC 3435207. PMID 22869743.
  10. ^ Hudson, C. M. (1976). The Southeastern Indians. University of Tennessee Press ISBN 0-87049-248-9.
  11. ^ Gibbons, E. (1964). Stalking the Blue-eyed Scallop. David McKay. ISBN 0-911469-05-2.
  12. ^ Niering, William A.; Olmstead, Nancy C. (1985) [1979]. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, Eastern Region. Knopf. p. 338. ISBN 0-394-50432-1.
  13. ^ "Like Yerba Maté? Try Yaupon". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2018-05-25.
  14. ^ Highways, Texas. "Texas' Only Caffeinated Plant Makes a Buzzworthy Tea - Texas Highways". Retrieved 2018-05-25.
  15. ^ Carpenter, Murray. "Here's The Buzz On America's Forgotten Native 'Tea' Plant". Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  16. ^ Flint, Harrison Leigh (1997). Landscape Plants for Eastern North America (2 ed.). John Wiley and Sons. pp. 282–283. ISBN 978-0-471-59919-7.