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Ilex vomitoria

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

Ilex vomitoria, commonly known as yaupon (/ˈjɔːpɒn/) or yaupon holly, is a species of holly that is native to southeastern North America.[2] The word yaupon was derived from the Catawban yą́pą, from yą- tree + leaf.[3] Another common name, cassina, was borrowed from Timucua[4] (despite this, it usually refers to Ilex cassine). The Latin name comes from an observation by early Europeans that the ingestion of the plant was followed by vomiting in certain ceremonies.

The plant was traditionally used by Native Americans and Euro-American colonists to make an infusion containing caffeine and theobromine. This drink went by different names, such as cassina, beloved drink or white drink among natives and "Carolina Tea", or "South Seas Tea" among colonists. It is only one of two known plants endemic to North America that produce caffeine. The other (containing 80% less) is Ilex cassine, commonly known as dahoon holly.[5] Recently, the plant has begun to be harvested for making commercial tea once again in the United States.[6]

Yaupon is also widely used for landscaping in its native range.


Yaupon holly is an evergreen shrub or small tree reaching 5–9 m tall, with smooth, light gray bark and slender, hairy shoots. The leaf arrangement is alternate, with leaves ovate to elliptical and a rounded apex with 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.[7][8][9][10][11]

Habitat and range[edit]

I. vomitoria occurs in the United States from the Eastern Shore of Virginia south to Florida and west to Oklahoma[10] and Texas. A disjunct population occurs in the Mexican state of Chiapas.[2] 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.[7]


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.[7]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

Human consumption[edit]

Some Native American tribes brew the leaves and stems to create an herbal tea, commonly called black drink. Historically the ceremonial consumption often included vomiting, and Europeans deduced that yaupon caused it (hence the Latin name - Ilex vomitoria).[12] The active ingredients, like those of the related yerba mate and guayusa plants, are caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline;[13][14] the vomiting may have resulted from the great quantities in which they drank the beverage, coupled with fasting.[7][15]

Native Americans may have also used the infusion as a laxative.[16] Ilex vomitoria usage by colonists for tea making and for medicinal uses in the Carolinas is documented by the early 18th century. In the English-speaking colonies, it was known variously as cassina, yaupon tea, Indian tea, Carolina tea, and Appalachian tea. Recently, the process of drying the leaves for consumption has been adopted by modern Americans, and yaupon is now commercially available.[17][18][19][20]


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.[21]
  • 'Will Fleming' – male clone featuring a columnar growth habit.
  • 'Pendula' – "weeping" variety. Has the highest caffeine content.

See also[edit]

  • 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
  • Yaupon Beach, North Carolina - a former town and current neighborhood of Oak Island, North Carolina.


  1. ^ Stritch, L. (2018). "Ilex vomitoria". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T62390A47600649. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-1.RLTS.T62390A47600649.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Ilex vomitoria". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2011-09-19.
  3. ^ "yaupon". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Inc. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Edwards, Adam L.; Bennett, Bradley C. (2005). "Diversity of Methylxanthine Content in Ilex cassine L. and Ilex vomitoria Ait.: Assessing Sources of the North American Stimulant Cassina". Economic Botany. 59 (3): 275–285. doi:10.1663/0013-0001(2005)059[0275:DOMCII]2.0.CO;2. JSTOR 4256992. S2CID 40377478.
  6. ^ Folch C. Ceremony, Medicine, Caffeinated Tea: Unearthing the Forgotten Faces of the North American Stimulant Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria). Comparative Studies in Society and History. 2021;63(2):464-498. doi:10.1017/S0010417521000116
  7. ^ a b c d "Yaupon Ilex vomitoria" (PDF). USDA Plant Guide.
  8. ^ "Florida's Hollies". Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b "Ilex vomitoria". Oklahoma Biological Survey. Archived from the original on 2008-10-16. Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  11. ^ "Ilex vomitoria". Bioimages. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  12. ^ Hudson, Charles, M (1979). Black Drink: A Native American Tea. University of Georgia Press.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Q. Ping Dou (24 May 2019). Tea in Health and Disease. MDPI. p. 103. ISBN 978-3-03897-986-9.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Hudson, Charles M. (1976). The Southeastern Indians. University of Tennessee Press ISBN 0-87049-248-9.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "Like Yerba Maté? Try Yaupon". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2018-05-25.
  18. ^ Highways, Texas. "Texas' Only Caffeinated Plant Makes a Buzzworthy Tea - Texas Highways". Retrieved 2018-05-25.
  19. ^ Carpenter, Murray. "Here's The Buzz On America's Forgotten Native 'Tea' Plant". NPR.org. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  20. ^ Stirn, Matt (24 February 2021). "Yaupon: The rebirth of America's forgotten tea". BBC Travel. Retrieved 24 October 2023.
  21. ^ 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.