Ilex glabra, commonly called inkberry or gallberry, is a slow-growing, upright-rounded, stoloniferous, broadleaf evergreen shrub in the holly family. It typically matures to 5-8’ tall, and can spread by root suckers to form colonies. It is native to the coastal plain from Nova Scotia to Florida to Louisiana where it is most commonly found in sandy woods and peripheries of swamps and bogs. Spineless, flat, ovate to elliptic, glossy, dark green leaves (to 1.5” long) have smooth margins with several marginal teeth near the apex. Leaves usually remain attractive in winter unless temperatures dip well below zero. Greenish white flowers (male in cymes and female in cymes or single) appear in spring, but are relatively inconspicuous. If pollinated, female flowers give way to pea-sized, jet black, berry-like drupes (inkberries to 3/8" diameter) which mature in early fall and persist throughout winter to early spring unless consumed by local bird populations. Gallberry honey is a highly-rated honey that results from bees feeding on inkberry flowers. This honey is locally produced in certain parts of the Southeastern U.S. in areas where beekeepers release bees from late April to early June to coincide with inkberry flowering time. Dried and roasted inkberry leaves were first used by Native Americans to brew a black tea-like drink, hence the sometimes used common name of Appalachian tea for this shrub.
Easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Adaptable to both light and heavy soils. Tolerates wet soils. Prefers rich, consistently moist, acidic soils in full sun. Good shade tolerance, however. Avoid neutral to alkaline soils. Inkberries are dioecious (separate male and female plants). Female plants need a male pollinator in order to produce the berry-like drupes that are characteristic of the species and cultivars.
The seeds have a period of dormancy. They can be planted in the fall for spring germination or they can be cold stratified to simulate winter conditions and to break their dormancy.
1. Scarify the seeds by nicking or sanding the seed coat.
2. Soak the seed in water for several hours.
3. Place the seeds in a plastic bag and seal it. Store the bag in a refrigerator for two months.
4. Fill a pot with potting soil.
5. Sow the seeds on the soil and cover them with a thin layer of soil.
6. Water the container and leave it to drain.
7. Put the pot in a warm, sunny area.
8. Water the pot regularly so that the soil is moist but not wet.
9. The seedlings can be transplanted when they are a few inches tall.