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Appalachian Tea Ilex glabra

Other Common Name(s):

Previously known as:

  • Winterlia glabra
Phonetic Spelling
EYE-leks GLAY-bruh
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Inkberry is a woody, multi-branched, broadleaf evergreen shrub in the holly family (Aquifoliaceae). It is native to Alabama. The species epithet means “smooth” in Latin, a description of the plant’s leaf surface.

Inkberry prefers a site in full sun to partial shade and clay or sandy acidic soils with good drainage. However, it tolerates moist, even occasionally wet soil. In its native habitat, it grows beside swamps and bogs. It is moderately salt-tolerant. Inkberry grows 5 to 10 feet tall, 5 to 8 feet wide, and suckers to form colonies. Plants generally need minimal pruning unless used as a hedge. If desired, prune in early spring just before new growth begins. 

Both male and female plants are necessary for inkberry to produce the berries that provide winter interest and are enjoyed by many species of birds and small mammals. Inkberry has glossy, dark green leaves that remain attractive in winter if temperatures do not fall too far below zero. The greenish-white flowers that appear in spring attract pollinators, including honey bees. The honey produced by the bees is considered outstanding.   

Its upright, rounded habit makes inkberry an effective hedge, windbreak, or privacy screen. Also, consider using it in a butterfly, children's, pollinator, or winter garden. 

Fire Risk: This plant has a high flammability rating and should not be planted within the defensible space of your home. Select plants with a low flammability rating for the sites nearest your home. 

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems: The native holly leafminer, Japanese wax scale, and southern red mites are the most frequently reported pests.  

 The Clemson Cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information Center has a factsheet on common diseases and insect pests.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Entryway Garden, Cabarrus County Extension Office
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • Gem Box®
    Dwarf female, dense and ball-shaped; good Boxwood alternative
  • 'Nigra'
    Similar to 'Shamrock', commercially available, compact
  • 'Shamrock'
    compact form 3'-5'
  • Strongbox®
    Mounded and dense female, resistant to pests and disease; good Boxwood alternative
Gem Box®, 'Nigra', 'Shamrock', Strongbox®
Tags:
#evergreen#drought tolerant#honey bees#nectar plant#native shrub#salt tolerant#cover plant#low maintenance#winter interest#rabbit resistant#windbreak#showy fruits#specialized bees#highly beneficial coastal plants#cpp#fire high flammability#NC native#buffer#children's garden#native garden#playground plant#edible fruits#pollinator plant#larval host plant#food source fall#food source herbage#food source nectar#food source pollen#Piedmont Mountains FAC#Coastal FACW#wet soils tolerant#bird friendly#nectar plant late spring#food source soft mast fruit#butterfly friendly#nectar plant early summer#bee friendly#Audubon#henry’s elfin butterfly#butterfly caterpillar host#wildlife friendly
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • Gem Box®
    Dwarf female, dense and ball-shaped; good Boxwood alternative
  • 'Nigra'
    Similar to 'Shamrock', commercially available, compact
  • 'Shamrock'
    compact form 3'-5'
  • Strongbox®
    Mounded and dense female, resistant to pests and disease; good Boxwood alternative
Gem Box®, 'Nigra', 'Shamrock', Strongbox®
Tags:
#evergreen#drought tolerant#honey bees#nectar plant#native shrub#salt tolerant#cover plant#low maintenance#winter interest#rabbit resistant#windbreak#showy fruits#specialized bees#highly beneficial coastal plants#cpp#fire high flammability#NC native#buffer#children's garden#native garden#playground plant#edible fruits#pollinator plant#larval host plant#food source fall#food source herbage#food source nectar#food source pollen#Piedmont Mountains FAC#Coastal FACW#wet soils tolerant#bird friendly#nectar plant late spring#food source soft mast fruit#butterfly friendly#nectar plant early summer#bee friendly#Audubon#henry’s elfin butterfly#butterfly caterpillar host#wildlife friendly
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Ilex
    Species:
    glabra
    Family:
    Aquifoliaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Dried and roasted inkberry leaves were first used by Native Americans to brew a black tea-like drink, hence the sometimes used common name of Appalachian tea for this shrub.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Alabama
    Distribution:
    coastal plain from Nova Scotia to Florida to Louisiana
    Fire Risk Rating:
    high flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    This plant provides nectar for pollinators. It is a larval host plant for Henry's Elfin (Callophrys henrici) larvae which appear from February to May and have one flight. Adult Henry's Elfin butterflies feed on flower nectar. Other adult butterflies and bees are attracted to the blossoms as well. Members of the genus Ilex support the following specialized bee:  Colletes banksi. The plant's fruits are eaten by many species of birds, including bobwhite quail and wild turkey and small mammals. Leaves are eaten by white-tailed deer and rabbits. This is also a cover plant for deer and other birds.
    Play Value:
    Attracts Pollinators
    Buffer
    Edible fruit
    Screening
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wind Break
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Soil compaction tolerant, deer resistant
    Edibility:
    Use caution. Human ingestion of berries can cause minor toxic reaction.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 5 ft. 0 in. - 10 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 5 ft. 0 in. - 8 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Shrub
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Erect
    Rounded
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    6-feet-12 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Drupe
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Pea-sized, jet black, berry-like drupes (inkberries to 3/8" in diameter) which mature in September and last through November.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Green
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Description:
    Inkberries are dioecious, needing both male and female plants to produce fruits. Flowers are fairly inconspicuous. Male plants have flowers in cymes while the female plant will bear flowers in either cymes or as a single. Blooms from May to June.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The Inkberry has alternate, simple, spineless, flat, ovate to elliptic, glossy, dark green leaves (to 1.5” long) that have smooth margins with several marginal teeth near the apex. Leaves usually remain attractive in winter unless temperatures dip well below zero.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    Multiple stems
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Recreational Play Area
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Children's Garden
    Edible Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Specialized Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Erosion
    Pollution
    Rabbits
    Salt
    Wet Soil
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    Minor toxicity. Ingestion may cause vomiting, diarrhea, or other illness in humans.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Saponins
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No