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Ilex glabra, also known as Appalachian tea, dye-leaves, evergreen winterberry, gallberry, and inkberry, is a species of evergreen holly native to the coastal plain of eastern North America, from Nova Scotia to Florida to Louisiana where it is most commonly found in sandy woods and peripheries of swamps and bogs. It typically matures to 5-8’ tall, and can spread by root suckers to form colonies. It normally is cultivated as a shrub in USDA zones 6 to 10.
Gallberry nectar is the source of a pleasant honey that is popular in the southern United States.
Spineless, flat, ovate to elliptic, glossy, dark green leaves (to 1.5” long) have smooth margins with several marginal teeth near the apex. Leaves usually remain attractive bright green in winter unless temperatures fall below -17 C/0 F. Greenish white flowers (male in cymes and female in cymes or single) appear in spring, but are relatively inconspicuous. If pollinated, female flowers give way to pea-sized, jet black, berry-like drupes (inkberries to 3/8" diameter) which mature in early fall and persist throughout winter to early spring unless consumed by local bird populations. Cultivars of species plants (see for example Ilex glabra 'Shamrock') typically have better form (more compact, less open, less leggy and less suckering) that the species.
Genus name in Latin means oak in probable reference to the similarity of the holly leaf to the leaf of a Mediterranean oak known as Quercus ilex (holly oak). Species name means smooth in reference to plant leaf surfaces.
Gallberry honey is a highly-rated honey that results from bees feeding on inkberry flowers. This honey is locally produced in certain parts of the Southeastern U. S. in areas where beekeepers release bees from late April to early June to coincide with inkberry flowering time.
Dried and roasted inkberry leaves were first used by Native Americans to brew a black tea-like drink, hence the sometimes used common name of Appalachian tea for this shrub.
- Cloud, Katherine Mallet-Prevost. The Cultivation of Shrubs (Chapter IX: Cultural Instructions), Dodd, Mead & Company, 1927, p. 191.
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