Appalachian Tea

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Nestled within Yale's campus, an understated beauty awaits discovery: Appalachian Tea, scientifically known as Ilex glabra. Also called Inkberry or Evergreen Winterberry, this unassuming shrub is a native of the eastern United States, with its natural habitat extending from the Appalachian region to the coastal plains. Despite its unassuming appearance, Appalachian Tea holds a world of fascination within its glossy leaves and dark, lustrous berries. From its historical use by Native American tribes for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, to its ecological importance in supporting wildlife, to its potential as a landscaping plant, Appalachian Tea has a rich story to tell. Embark with us on a journey of exploration as we unveil the captivating secrets of this lesser-known yet extraordinary plant that graces the Appalachian landscape with its unique charm.
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Rounded Shrub
Date of tree entry: 
1.60 m
There is some other reason the DBH cannot be measured accurately
The bark in Appalachian Tea shrubs is typically smooth and a dark, greenish brown (Virginia Tech Dendrology Fact Sheet, n.d.).
Twigs & branches
The twigs of the Appalachian Tea shrub are typically slender, lined, and green with small green buds present (Virginia Tech Dendrology Fact Sheet, n.d.). However, as the year progresses into winter, the twigs will turn gradually turn grey.
The leaves are typically 1 to 2 1/2 inches long and have a waxy overcoat. Throughout the different seasons of the year, the foliage is abundant with these leaves. The leaf shape is classifed as Lanceolate.
Reproductive Structures
The flowers produced by Appalachian tea shrubs are dioecious, small, and greenish white. These flowers typically appear in the late spring. Females shrubs have smaller floral displays than males and female shrubs are made up of flowers that lack functional pollen. However, male shrubs will have larger groups of flowers that lack functional ovules (Buckley, 2008). The main pollinator for this shrub are insects such as butterflies and bees (Buckley, 2008).
This shrub produces small, nearly black, shiny, berry-like drupes that are about 1/3 inch in diameter and ripen in the fall, persisting through the following spring.
  • In the winter
  • In the spring
  • In the summer
  • In the fall
Natural range of distribution: 
Appalachian Tea is native to the eastern and central regions of North America. It is typically found in wetlands and other moist habitats, such as swamps, bogs, marshes, and along the edges of ponds and lakes. It is well-adapted to grow in areas with high humidity and abundant rainfall. In its natural habitat, Appalachian Tea is often found growing in mixed hardwood forests, pine barrens, and coastal plain habitats. It can tolerate a wide range of soil types, including acidic and alkaline soils. It is also known for its ability to grow in areas with fluctuating water levels, and can tolerate periodic flooding and inundation of its root zone. It is an important component of wetland ecosystems, providing habitat and food source for wildlife, including birds, mammals, and insects. Its dense foliage and berries also provide cover and food for various bird species during the winter months.
Origin, history, and uses: 

Appalachian Tea is from eastern and central North America and has a unique evolutionary history within the continent, as outlined in the “Phenology” section. In terms its history with humans, Native American tribes in the Appalachian region have used Appalachian Tea for its medicinal properties. Infusions or decoctions made from the leaves or bark of the plant, named “Appalachian Tea,” have been used as a remedy for various ailments, such as fevers, coughs, colds, and skin conditions, due to its potential anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and emetic properties. The plant was also used in the creation of wreaths, garlands, and other decorative items for celebrations, rituals, and ceremonies.

In addition to its medicinal and cultural uses, Appalachian Tea also has culinary applications. The plant produces small, black berries that are rich in nutrients and a food source for wildlife. These berries can also be used to make a type of honey known as “inkberry honey” due to the nectar collected from Ilex glabra flowers by bees. Inkberry honey is known for its dark color, rich flavor, and potential health benefits.

This bush is classified as an evergreen, meaning that even in the winter, it does not lose its leaves (Maine Natural Areas Program Rare Plant Fact Sheet for Ilex Glabra, n.d.). Therefore, the Appalachian Tea shrub can be found with leaves all throughout the year and throughout all seasons. In the northern hemisphere, Ilex Glabra typically flowers from February to late June depending on the latitude (Inkberry Articles - Encyclopedia of Life, n.d.). For example, in North Carolina the shrub begins to flower from May to June whereas in New England, the shrub begins to flower from mid-June to July (Inkberry Articles - Encyclopedia of Life, n.d.). Shortly after this flowering period, the flowers begin to produce fruit commonly referred to as inkberries. This process begins in July and the fruit reach their peak ripeness between September and November (Inkberry Articles - Encyclopedia of Life, n.d.). These fruits can be seen all throughout early winter until they fall off in the following spring when the new growth of flowers begins.
Media and Arts
PDF icon appalachian_tea_storybook.pdf949.25 KB
Shrub Canopy Area: