Yaupon (Vomitoria)

The Yaupon (Vomitoria) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . Leaves are retained year to year. The Yaupon (Vomitoria) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Yaupon (Vomitoria) will reach up to 25 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 20 feet.

The Yaupon (Vomitoria) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below 7°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: Most if not all of the Native American tribes in the Southeastern United States including the Alabama, Cherokee, Creek, Natchez, and Seminole used Yaupon for medicinal as well as other purposes. A decoction was made from the leaves and shoots, called “black drink”, which was used medicinally, ceremonially, and was also served as a social drink. The leaves and shoots, which contain caffeine, were roasted in an earthenware container over a fire, much like coffee beans are roasted. The black drink was drunk socially and offered to visitors to indicate friendly intensions. Its primary medicinal use was as an emetic, to induce vomiting and as a purgative or laxative. It was taken to cure “a tremor in the nerves.” The drink was used in ceremonial medicine as an emetic to “clear out the system and produce ceremonial purity.” In some tribes, women and boys were prohibited from imbibing the drink. The Florida Seminoles still brew a “black drink” for their annual Green Corn Dance, although it is not always made with Yaupon, but from other plants. The plant was also used as a hallucinogen to “evoke ecstasies.” The bark was used to treat nightmares where the patient sees ghosts and talks during sleep. Sore eyes were treated with eyewash made by scraping off the inner bark and boiling it in water for several hours. The wood was used to make arrows and ramrods that were used in hunting and fishing. In addition to trading Yaupon with nearby neighbors, Native American tribes in the Southeastern United States probably increased the distribution of yaupon. There is evidence that they transplanted and cared for the trees (see Hammett 1992 for references).

Wildlife: The showy red berries of yaupon attract wildlife and are an important food for many songbirds, gamebirds and waterfowl. Bluebirds, catbirds, mockingbirds, robins, yellow-shafted flickers, red-naped sapsuckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, white-throated sparrows and cedar waxwings are among the many songbirds that feed on the berries. Florida ducks, black ducks, mourning doves, ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail and wild turkeys also consume the berries. Armadillos, black bears, gray foxes, western foxes, raccoons and skunks eat the fruits. White-tailed deer browse the foliage and twigs. The evergreen nature of the yaupon is important to wildlife as it provides cover during the winter months.

General Characteristics

General: Holly Family (Aquifoliaceae). Yaupon is a native, perennial, evergreen shrub or a small tree (8 m tall). The leathery leaf blades (1 to 2.5 cm long) are alternate, elliptical or oval with shallow teeth at the margins. The upper surface is a lustrous green with a lighter green lower surface. The leaves contain caffeine. Yaupon is the only native plant in North America that contains caffeine. Flowers (5 to 5.5 mm) with four greenish white petals appear from March through May. Blooms appear on axillary clusters on year-old wood. Male flowers appear in clusters while female flowers grow either solitarily or in pairs. Young stems are covered with a purplish down which changes to whitish gray with age. The bark is light in color, from white to gray. The heartwood is hard and close-grained. Female plants have beautiful, round fruits that are a translucent red (5 to 6 mm in diameter) and contain four nutlets. The fruits frequently stay on the bush until the following spring.

Required Growing Conditions

Yaupon occurs in the Coastal Plain of the Southeastern United States. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Habitat: Yaupon generally occurs in coastal areas in well-drained sandy soils. It 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.

Cultivation and Care

Yaupon is a picturesque tree with an upright stature and irregular branches. The plants may be used as screens, hedges and mass plantings. They make good specimen trees and can be espaliered or used as a topiary plant. The trees are one of the toughest of the hollies, easy to transplant, medium to fast growing and grow well on a variety of soils. They can grow in dry to fairly wet soils and are tolerant of salt spray. They make excellent plants for coastal areas but also do well a considerable distance from the coast. Yaupon is better adapted to warmer climates than other evergreen hollies. Be sure to include at least one male plant in order to insure adequate pollination for fruit set.

General Upkeep and Control

The tree commonly forms thickets by sending up suckers that sprout from the roots. The tree responds well to pruning and shearing. Limbs may be removed in order to expose the bark which is a lovely grayish white.

Pests and Potential Problems Yaupon has no serious pest or disease problems although leafminers have been reported to occasionally be a problem.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Mid Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Multiple Stem
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 25
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature 7
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing Yes
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4.5–7 pH
Precipitation Range 36–36 inches/yr
Planting Density 680–1200 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Minimum Frost-Free Days 200 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Medium
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention Yes
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database, plants.usda.gov.
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA