Ilex mucronata (Swamp Holly)

Plant Info
Also known as: Catberry, Mountain Holly
Genus:Ilex
Family:Aquifoliaceae (Holly)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Origin:native
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):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Flower shape: 5-petals

[photo of male flowers] 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.

[photo of female flowers] 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: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] 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.

[photo of older bark] Older bark is thin, gray, smooth to rough with warty horizontal lenticels. Stems are erect, multiple from the base, the larger stems up to 2 inches diameter, and may form thickets from root suckers.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a bright red, round berry, ¼ to 1/3 inch diameter, containing a few nutlets, and persists through winter.

Notes:

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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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Boot Lake SNA, Anoka County. Fruiting Ilex mucronata By R. A. Nonenmacher (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons, used under CC BY-SA 4.0

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