Ilex mucronata (Swamp Holly)
|Also known as:||Catberry, Mountain Holly|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; wet peaty or sandy soil; bogs, swamps, wet woods, thickets, swales, shores|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||3 to 15 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: none MW: OBL NCNE: OBL|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Male and female flowers are usually borne on separate plants (dioecious), occasionally a plant will produce perfect flowers (both male and female parts). All flowers are about ¼ inch across with 4 or 5 pale yellow, narrow, ribbon-like petals. Male flowers have yellow-tipped stamens alternating with the petals.
Female flowers have shorter sterile stamens alternating with the petals and a prominent green ovary capped with a yellowish green stigma in the center. Flowers are single in leaf axils along this year's new branchlets, on slender, hairless stalks up to 1 inch long and emerge with the leaves in spring.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are simple, alternate though may be crowded and appear whorled at branchlet tips, 1 to 2 inches long, up to 1 inch wide, somewhat variable in shape, oblong-elliptic to obovate (widest near the tip), rounded to pointed at the tip often with an abrupt minute point (mucronate), rounded to tapering at the base, on a hairless, green to purplish stalk up to ½ inch long. Edges are toothless except for a few minute teeth at the tip end; surfaces are hairless. New twigs are hairless, purplish brown to reddish with scattered white lenticels (pores), developing flaky gray bark second year.
Swamp Holly, also known as Nemopanthus mucronatus, is an uncommon shrub of wet places and reaches the western fringe of its range in Minnesota. We encountered a few isolated plants in a bog at Boot Lake SNA and had to navigate through an obstacle course of knee-deep trenches and Poison Sumac to reach it (hope you appreciate that!). It is fairly easy to recognize when flowering or fruiting, with long-stalked bright red fruits or pale flowers with ribbon-like petals, single in the leaf axils. When flowers and fruits are absent, the leaves may help distinguish it: 1 to 2 inches long, hairless, toothless or with a few teeth at the tip, often with a minute point at the apex, and the leaf stalk usually purplish. The related Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) has larger, toothed leaves with hairy leaf stalks and small clusters of short-stalked flowers and fruits.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Swamp Holly shrub
- fruiting Swamp Holly ©R. A. Nonenmacher
- multiple stems from the base
- leaf scan
- flowering branch
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?