The recent cold winter weather has affected all living things in Tallahassee and Leon County. The human population trembles and trembles, fearing that electricity bills will triple.
The forest dwellers are also looking for a warm, safe place, but without the possibility of artificial heat. Likely selections include burrows, litter in sheltered spots, and tree hollows, all found in local wildlife areas.
The next problem is getting comfort food to stay warm from the inside and conserve energy. Again, people have the benefit of numerous local choices, ranging from trendy and stylish (usually expensive) to fast and greasy.
The wild animals and birds have far fewer opportunities in February that are scattered over a much larger area. Unlike menu options at area restaurants, once the goodies are gone, they’ll be missing until next season.
A genus of native plants still displays its brilliant seasonal tones, indicating guests are welcome to stop by for a snack or meal. Local holly trees are heavily laden with red berries and deep green leaves.
Ilexes, as holly is botanically known, are distributed throughout the temperate to tropical parts of the world, with species on every continent except Antarctica. There are about 500 individual species of this evergreen genus.
The greatest diversity of holly species is found in America. Curiously, there is a single native known species in Europe that is commonly associated with the Christmas season.
Plants in this genus have simple, alternately glossy leaves, usually with sharp spines on the leaf margin. Its nondescript flower is greenish-white, four-petaled, and is a food source for native pollinators during the warmer months of the year.
The berries that are now appearing are an important winter food source. In return, the birds disperse the undigested seeds to establish the next generation of that plant.
Humans and other mammals should not eat the berries as they can cause stomach upset. Holly native to this region have red berries, but other colors occur in non-native species.
In general, slow-growing holly can be either trees or shrubs. Fossil records indicate that the earliest known holm oak members have been around since the last days of dinosaurs.
While many exotic holly trees are used in Panhandle Florida’s home landscapes, there are also several native species. These fit well in landscapes but can also be found in the wild.
Yaupon, sometimes called Yaupon holly, is a small evergreen tree or large shrub that can reach 25 feet in height. It has small grey-green, leathery leaves densely arranged on smooth, stiff branches.
It grows in soil with a pH in the acidic to slightly alkaline range. It is very tolerant of drought and salty air from the Gulf of Mexico, making it ideal for coastal landscapes in northern Florida.
In the wild, male plants are far more common and do not produce berries. The female plants are very heavy berry producers and can form dense thickets.
Dahoon hollies have smooth, glossy dark green leaves that are two to three inches long with only a few jags near the top. This holly can reach a height of 20 to 30 feet with a branch spread 8 to 12 feet wide.
Dahoons have male and female flowers on separate plants. Both trees need to be in close proximity to ensure production of the bright red berries in fall and winter.
Palatka holly, first identified in 1927 near East Palatka, Florida, is thought to be a hybrid between two other species of Ilex. The broad, rounded leaves have a spike at the top and few, if any, along the leaf edge.
A female Palatka holly is usually heavily laden with bright red berries during fall and winter, especially towards the top of the tree. The tree can grow up to 45 feet tall and has a moderately narrow pyramidal shape.
The local holly are ready to serve the hungry wild residents or travelers that roam the area. Remember, if a swarm arrives starved of flies, the berries can quickly disappear.
To learn more about these native trees in Tallahassee, Fort Braden and Leon County, contact your nearest UF/IFAS County Extension Office. To read more of Les Harrison’s stories, visit: Outdoorauthor.com and follow him on Facebook.
Les Harrison is a UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Agent Emeritus.
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