Indian Hawthorn (Ilex paraguariensis) is a small evergreen shrub native to South America. It grows up to 3 feet tall with a spread of 1 foot. Its leaves are opposite, flat leaflets that are 2 inches long and ¼ inch wide at their base. They have 4 teeth along each edge and appear like little scissors. The flowers are white or pinkish red; they bloom from March through June in warm climates but may occur earlier in cooler regions.
The seeds of Ilex paraguariensis are used in traditional medicine in parts of South America and Mexico. The seeds contain a substance called ibuprofen which helps relieve pain and inflammation.
Ibuprofen is also known to reduce fever, aid digestion, prevent diarrhea, treat headaches, stomach aches and other ailments. The seeds are eaten fresh or dried and ground into a powder for use as a laxative.
In the United States, Ilex paraguariensis is cultivated primarily for its edible fruit. It is commonly grown commercially for its ornamental value and to provide food for livestock.
The fruit contains a bitter liquid that tastes similar to persimmons. Because it does not ripen properly until late summer, it must be harvested before it turns brown and shrivels up completely. The fruit may be used to make jams, jellies and beverages.
Indian Hawthorn should be planted in a location that receives partial shade. It prefers well-draining soil and cannot tolerate standing water.
Although it can grow in full sun, it will not bloom if planted in an area that receives more than 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. The shrub grows quickly and reaches its mature height within 3 years. In ideal conditions, it may reach a mature height between 6 and 8 feet. It should be trimmed on a regular basis to keep it from growing out of control. New growth typically begins in late March or early April.
This plant is susceptible to fireblight, a bacterial disease that causes dark spots to form on the leaves. Leaves may develop small holes and eventually drop off the plant completely.
Fire blight can be treated with antibiotics but if left untreated it will likely kill the plant. Overwatering may also cause leaves to develop yellow patches that eventually turn brown and die.
The flowers of the Ilex paraguariensis attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The berries are an important food source for many songbirds during the winter months.
This is a particularly good plant to grow near walkways because its prickly branches make it difficult for people to walk through.
Indian hawthorn is typically propagated through softwood cuttings. They may also be grown from seeds although this method takes significantly longer to produce mature plants.
It is important to keep the soil moist but not soggy. This can be done by keeping the pot elevated and watering just enough that the soil remains damp. The cuttings should be ready for transplanting within 6 to 8 weeks.
The flowers bloom in clusters with multiple blossoms. Each flower has five slender petals and may range in color from white to light purple.
The fruit produced by the trees are small berries that turn dark blue or black when they mature. The berries resemble small versions of wild grapes. The berries and flowers can both be eaten but the seeds must be spit out because they taste extremely bitter.
The Indian hawthorn is not related to the common North American hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) which is sometimes called mayhaw. The common North American species does not produce edible fruits and the wood is too hard to be used as a tool or weapon.
Sources & references used in this article:
BA application frequency and concentration effects on two Indian hawthorn cultivars by JM Oates, GJ Keever… – Journal of …, 2005 – meridian.allenpress.com
Interactive Effects of Pruning and Cyclanilide Application on Growth of Woody Nursery Crops by AS Holland, GJ Keever… – Journal of …, 2008 – meridian.allenpress.com
Chemically induced branching of woody landscape plants by GJ Keever, WJ Foster – Journal of environmental …, 1990 – meridian.allenpress.com
Developmental stage influences plant response to benzyladenine by JM Oates, GJ Keever… – Journal of …, 2005 – meridian.allenpress.com
Multiple cyclanilide applications promote branching of woody ornamentals by AS Holland, GJ Keever… – Journal of …, 2007 – meridian.allenpress.com
Developmental Stage of ‘Snow White’Indian Hawthorn and ‘Sky Pencil’Holly Affects Response to Cyclanilide by Z Williamson, GJ Keever… – Journal of …, 2015 – meridian.allenpress.com