Northern Ontario Plant Database
Ilex mucronata (L.) M.Powell, Savol., and S.Andrews
En: catberry, mountain holly
Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family)
General: An open-branched, deciduous shrub of wet habitats, 0.3—3 m tall.
Stems/twigs: Bark smooth (glabrous), ash-gray, often distinctly mottled. Twigs are reddish-purple to purplish-brown, glabrous, and marked with scattered lenticels. Terminal buds are conical, lateral buds are also conical but somewhat smaller; the dark purple bud scales are lighter in colour towards the edge, with minutely ciliate margins; leaf scars are broadly-triangular with a single bundle scar.
Leaves: Alternate, simple, pinnately-veined; petioles are distinctly purple and about 1 cm long. Leaf blades are elliptic to oblanceolate, to 7 cm long by 2.5 cm wide, and glabrous; young leaves are tinged with bronze; upper leaf surfaces of mature leaves are bright- to bluish-green and slightly paler beneath. Leaf bases are tapering (cuneate) to rounded, apices are pointed (obtuse to acute) and mucronate, terminating in a short bristle; margins are entire to sharply toothed (serrate) toward the apex. Leaves turn yellow in autumn.
Flowers: Usually unisexual, with functionally male or female flowers on different shrubs (plants dioecious), but occasional bisexual flowers may occur on the same shrub (plants polygamo-dioecious). Flowers are small, somewhat hidden by the emerging leaves and therefore easily overlooked until the flower stalks (peduncles) elongate. Both male and female flowers are axillary, solitary, or occasionally in few-flowered clusters, with long slender peduncles about 2.5—5 cm long. Flowers have a minute 4—5-toothed calyx and 4—5 narrow petals, pale yellow to yellowish-green; male (staminate) flowers have 4—5 stamens; female (pistillate) flowers have a single pistil with a superior ovary topped by a sessile, lobed stigma, the pistil is surrounded by 4—5 small non-functional stamens. Flowers bloom in May as the leaves are expanding.
Fruit: A smooth, globose, red to bright magenta, berry-like drupe, 6—7 mm in diameter, with 4—5 small pits; fruits are borne on long, slender stalks (peduncles). Occasional plants with pale yellow fruit (forma chrysocarpa (Farw.) Fernald) may occur. Fruits mature in late summer.
Habitat and Range: Moist to wet woods and thickets, borders of bogs and swamps, and wet ditches. Mountain holly is a boreal eastern North American species that occurs commonly in northeastern and southern Ontario, extending north to about 48°30' N (Soper & Heimburger 1982); it occurs throughout the Algoma District.
Similar Species: Mountain holly fruits appear similar to those of serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) but the latter have a different flower type (pome) with a persistent 5-lobed calyx at the top of each dark purple fruit. Serviceberry species also have serrate leaf margins and larger white-petalled flowers, mainly arranged in racemes.Back to species list