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Plant Profile: Hollyleaf Redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia)

This evergreen shrub is native to western North American where it grows in chaparral and wooded areas in Oregon, California, Baja California and Arizona. It is a member of the buckthorn family, Rhamnaceae, that also includes California lilac, jujube tree, and crown of thorns. The shrub grows up to 15′ tall and has ascending branches with gray bark and thick, oval to rounded leaves that are 1 1/2-3″ long and have a rounded base, blunt tip and smooth or spiny margins. Solitary or clusters of up to 6 inconspicuous, yellow-green flowers appear in spring. The flowers lack petals and have 4 pointed sepals and exerted styles. They are attractive to butterflies, bees, and other pollinators and give way to a small 2-stoned drupe that is green before turning red, then black. The fruits provide food for birds and mammals. Hollyleaf redberry is tolerant of drought and pruning, and is a good choice for xeriscape where it can be used as a hedge and for soil stabilization. The genus name, Rhamnus, comes from the ancient Greek word ῥάμνος (rhámnos) referring to various prickly shrubs. The specific epithet, ilicifolia, comes from the Latin words, ilex, meaning holm oak, and folium, meaning leaf.

Type: Evergreen shrub

Outstanding Features: Fruit; drought tolerance

Form: Mounding

Growth Rate: Slow

Bloom: Inconspicuous yellow-green flowers in spring

Size: 4-15’H x 3-10W

Light: Full sun to part sun

Soil: Rocky, dry, well drained; very drought tolerant once established

Hardiness: Zones 7-10

Care: Low maintenance

Pests and Diseases: None of significance

Propagation: Seed (stratified if stored)

Outstanding Selections: None available

Photo Credit: Eric in SF Wikimedia Commons