Gallberry

Ilex glabra
Family: Aquifoliaceae

Natural History
Close-up of gallberry leaf
Photo credit: SFRC, University of Florida

Gallberry is a persistent shrub that is commonly found in acidic soil, especially sandy wetlands and swamps. It is frequently the most abundant shrub in flatwood forests of the Lower Coastal Plain. Gallberry is found in most of the southeast, between Florida and Louisiana in the south, to Maine and Nova Scotia in the north. It reproduces abundantly by both seed and sprouting following a disturbance such as fire.

Gallberry leaves can be used to make tea. In landscaping, it is used forfoundation plantings and seaside plantings. The seeds are a source of food for many animals.

Gallberry may be confused with giant gallberry (Ilex coriacea). Giant gallberry grows taller often as single stems and some plants have been up to 27' tall. Giant gallberry has reddish twigs and its leaves are bigger, 1" to 3" long and 1" to 1½" wide, are darker green, and have several, small spines along the margin.

Another identification tip to distinguish giant gallbery from galberry is to look for "spines" on both margins. Gallberry has 3-5 spines, indented & only at the leaf tip. Giant gallberry (at least on some leaves) has several spines, not indented & down to the leaf base.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: Gallberry frequently grows in acidic soil including flatwood forests, sandy wetlands, swamps, and frequently burned areas. 
Size/Form: Gallberry is an open, upright evergreen shrub that grows in clusters and measures three to nine feet tall. Young plants are dense and compact with a rounded shape. On older plants, the foliage is only on the upper half of the stems.
Stem: New stems are light green and slightly hairy but they gradually turn brown and smooth with age.
Leaves: The leathery leaves are simple, alternate, and persistent. They are usually ½" to 1½" long, ¼" to 1" wide, and elliptic in outline. The leaf surface is shiny yellowish green above and lighter green with tiny red glands below. The leaf margin is entire with several, usually 3, small teeth on the upper margin.
Fruit: The fruit is a dry, round, shiny, black drupe, about ¼" wide. The solitary fruits persist throughout most of winter and contain five to seven seeds.

 

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