Ilex decidua 'Council Fire'
Common Name: possumhaw 
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Zone: 5 to 9
Height: 6.00 to 12.00 feet
Spread: 5.00 to 10.00 feet
Bloom Time: May
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Hedge, Rain Garden
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Good Fall
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Clay Soil, Air Pollution


Easily grown in average, medium moisture soil in full sun to part shade. Adaptable to both light and heavy soils, but prefers moist, acidic, organic soils. Some tolerance for wet conditions. Plants of this species are mostly dioecious (separate male and female plants), but some plants have perfect flowers (complete flowers with functioning stamens and pistils). For best show of berries, plant female plants, with at least one male plant to insure that pollination will take place. Prune to shape in early spring just before new growth begins.

'Council Fire' is a female plant and needs a male pollinator (e.g., male Ilex decidua or Ilex opaca 'Jersey Knight') for fruit production. One male plant will generally be sufficient for pollinating 9-10 female plants.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Ilex decidua is a Missouri native, deciduous holly that is commonly called possum haw. It occurs on limestone glades and bluffs, along streams in wet woods, and in lowland valleys, sloughs and swamps. An upright shrub with a spreading, rounded crown which typically grows 7-15' tall in cultivation (to 30' in the wild). Obovate, narrow, glossy, dark green leaves (2-3" long) turn a dull purplish green to yellow in autumn. The whitish flowers of both male and female plants are relatively inconspicuous. Pollinated female flowers give way to orange-red berries which ripen in September and persist throughout the winter until mid-March when new growth begins. Birds, deer and a variety of small mammals (including opossums as the common name suggests) are attracted to the fruit.

Genus name comes from the Latin name Quercus ilex for holm oak in reference to the foliage similarities (holm oak and many of the shrubs in the genus Ilex have evergreen leaves).

Specific epithet refers to the species being deciduous not evergreen like most hollies.

'Council Fire' is an upright, rounded shrub which grows 6-12' high. Leaves are obovate, narrow and glossy dark green in summer, turning to yellow in fall. The whitish flowers are relatively inconspicuous. Pollinated female plants produce numerous, dense clusters of orange-red berries which ripen in September and persist throughout the winter until mid-March when new growth begins.


No serious disease or insect problems. Occasional problems include leaf spots and powdery mildew.


Effective as a specimen, in groups or as a hedge. Can be grown in low spots or along ponds or streams with somewhat wet soil conditions. Interesting selection for a Missouri native plant garden. Colorful berries provide excellent color to the winter landscape.