the nice native yaupon holly and the Henry’s Elfin
butterfly that frequents it.
on these species is courtesy Helen Hamilton, author of
"Wildflowers and Grasses of Virginia’s Coastal
soft leaves and bright-red fruits in early January,
yaupon holly is a much-loved landscape plant. It can be
used several ways — lower branches removed to create a
small, stand-out tree or pruned to form an attractive
privacy hedge. It’s a durable, fast-growing plant that
can be planted along streets, parking lots and sidewalk
straight species, native holly is known as Ilex
vomitoria and grows 15 to 25 feet tall with a natural
vase shape, according to Hamilton. It tolerates most
growing conditions — full sun to shade, swamps, sand
or clay, and tolerates drought and salt spray. Found on
coastal dunes, stream banks, shrub thickets and
woodlands, it grows best with mild winters and hot,
humid summers — from Virginia to Florida and west to
Texas and Arkansas, typically cold hardy zones 7-10.
fruits are small but beautiful in a translucent red
color. Arranged in dense clusters throughout the plant,
the berries form in October through November and persist
through winter as a vital food source for many birds,
which distribute the seeds. Small mammals eat the
fruits, but deer tend to avoid the entire plant,
plant produces inconspicuous white flower March through
May on male and female trees.
flowers have large yellow anthers, but only female
flowers produce small red fruits, technically a drupe,
which is a fleshy fruit with a hard stone like peaches
and plums," says Hamilton.
most prickly hollies, yaupon’s gray-green leaves are
smooth with scalloped edges.
spring, yaupon’s flowers are pollinated by bees. Most
important, yaupon holly is a host plant for Henry’s
Elfin butterfly, meaning female butterflies deposit eggs
on the leaves which are eaten by the caterpillars,
according to Hamilton.
yaupon cultivars are available in local nurseries in
dwarf, weeping and columnar forms. Some cultivated
varieties bear yellow fruits, or the leaves are shiny or
burgundy in the fall. Other cultivars are male only,
without fruit; some are female with very showy
the species name — "vomitoria" — is not
readily understandable, she adds. It refers to the
ritual use by Native Americans, who brewed the leaves
and twigs for a tea, which they drank in large
quantities. As part of a purification ceremony, they
vomited back the drink, self-induced or with the
addition of other ingredients.
the flowers of holly trees and redbuds open early
spring, pollinators like Henry’s Elfin butterfly, or
Callophrys henrici, also awake from their winter nap,
can overwinter as eggs, caterpillars, or as pupa, often
encased inside a hardened covering called a chrysalis.
Many butterflies respond to cold temperatures by
entering diapause, a period of suspended development
when metabolism is lowered, she adds.
Elfin emerges in early March, and within a few weeks the
females will choose the leaves of hollies and redbuds to
deposit eggs," she says.
Elfin caterpillars recognize and feed on these familiar
host plants; by the end of April the life cycle of the
adult butterfly ends. Not much is known about the
dormancy of Henry’s Elfin, but possibly the
caterpillars metamorphose into pupa and enter diapause
until the following spring, according to Dr. Norman
Fashing, an entomologist at the College of William and
butterfly is delicately marked on the wings with brown
and violet and unlike most hairstreaks, their hindwing
tails are reduced and stubby, says Hamilton.
you want to help butterflies in your yard, remember that
leaf litter, shrubs and standing vegetation are all
homes for overwintering butterflies, according to Brian
Taber of the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory —