Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ilex mitis (Cape Holly)

The lovely Ilex mitis is a medium sized tree with a straight trunk and an attractive rounded canopy and is the only holly species found naturally in Africa. The glossy green leaves, abundant, sweetly scented white flowers and the profusion of spectacular crimson berries make the Cape holly, truly a tree for all seasons. As these trees are either male or female, it is advisable to plant a few in a grove, ensuring the formation of flowers and berries. The sweetly scented flowers are attractive to insects and when the tiny petals begin to fall, the ground beneath the tree becomes covered in a delicate white carpet. The highly decorative, shiny red berries are irresistible to many fruit eating birds while a branch of glossy leaves and berries picked from the tree, adds interest and texture to flower arrangements.


Botanical Name
Ilex mitis
Common Name
Cape holly
RSA National Tree No’


Since the versatile Cape Holly seldom grows taller than 8m in cultivation and has a non-invasive root system, it is suitable for even the smallest of gardens. With the upright growth habit and pale bark, Ilex mitis is an excellent indigenous substitute for the silver birch in a woodland garden setting. This charming tree is a perfect subject for formal gardens as the dense bushy foliage can be clipped into any desired shape or size.
Cape holly, aside from being a beautiful fast growing shade tree, can be used most successfully as an effective windbreak or hedging plant.


Growth Habit
Ilex mitis is usually found in forest and bushveld, growing near rivers and streams.
The bark on young trees is smooth and pale grey with white patches and transverse ridges, while on older trees the bark becomes evenly whitish-grey with rough, dark spots.
The 70-100mm x 19-25mm, simple, dark green leaves of the Cape holly are alternate, elliptic-lanceolate, and are carried on plum coloured stalks. The pointed tips of the leaves are sometimes curled and the margins may occasionally be slightly toothed. The midrib is sharply channeled above and prominent below. 
The small, white, sweetly scented flowers are carried in profusion in the leaf axils in spring or early summer. The male and female flowers are borne on separate trees.
The 6mm, shiny, berry-like fruit is densely packed along the stems, ripening to a deep crimson on female trees in autumn.
The small dark seeds emerge as the fruit decays.


Growing regions
Ilex mitis is widespread throughout all the provinces of South Africa as well as Lesotho and Swaziland.
Growing conditions
The Cape holly is happiest in a protected, semi- shaded or sunny position with the addition of plenty of compost, a good mulch and regular deep watering.
Best season
 All year
This charming tree is one of the few indigenous trees that is frost hardy and while it prefers moist conditions for optimum growth, the Cape holly can withstand extended periods of drought.
Propagation is easiest from seed which germinates readily, 8-20 days, when planted in a moist sand and compost mixture.
Growth rate
 Fast, about 0,8m per annum.


The leaves of Ilex mitis, when wet and rubbed between the hands, forms a lather that was traditionally used by the Knysna woodcutters, amongst others, to wash in the forest rivers and streams. The light coloured, dense wood was used for the buckboards on wagons and occasionally for wheel spokes, as well as the heels of ladies shoes. Nowadays the wood is still used for implement handles, furniture and fuel.
         I.mitis Flowers & Foliage        I.mitis Bark                     I.mitis Berries

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