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Ilex decidua 'Council Fire' 'Council Fire' Possumhaw

Edward F. Gilman, Ryan W. Klein, and Gail Hansen


This native North American tree is often seen as a spreading 8 to 10 foot high shrub but can also become a 20 foot tall tree when planted in partial shade. Although the 2 to 3 inch long, dark green leaves are deciduous they do not present any appreciable fall color change. From March to May, small white flowers appear among the leaves. These blooms are followed by the production of small fruits which become orange/red when they ripen in early autumn. Since male trees will not fruit, be sure to purchase females so you will not miss the abundant fruit production. These fruits persist on the tree throughout the winter and are quite showy against the bare branches. After the fruits have been exposed to freezing and thawing, they become a favorite food source of many birds and mammals.

Full Form - Ilex decidua 'Council Fire': 'Council Fire' Possumhaw
Figure 1. Full Form - Ilex decidua 'Council Fire': 'Council Fire' Possumhaw
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS


Fruit - Ilex decidua 'Council Fire': 'Council Fire' Possumhaw
Figure 2. Fruit - Ilex decidua 'Council Fire': 'Council Fire' Possumhaw
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS

General Information

Scientific name: Ilex decidua 'Council Fire'

Pronunciation: EYE-lecks dee-SID-yoo-uh

Common name(s): 'Council Fire' possumhaw

Family: Aquifoliaceae

Plant type: shrub

USDA hardiness zones: 5 through 9A (Figure 3)

Planting month for zone 7: year round

Planting month for zone 8: year round

Planting month for zone 9: year round

Origin: native to North America

Invasive potential: not known to be invasive

Uses: container or above-ground planter; recommended for buffer strips around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway; near a deck or patio; specimen; residential street tree; medium-sized parking lot islands (100–200 square feet in size); large parking lot islands (> 200 square feet in size); small parking lot islands (< 100 square feet in size); narrow tree lawns (3–4 feet wide); medium-sized tree lawns (4–6 feet wide); wide tree lawns (>6 feet wide)

Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the plant

Shaded area represents potential planting range.
Figure 3. Shaded area represents potential planting range.


Height: 12 to 18 feet

Spread: 8 to 12 feet

Plant habit: vase shape

Plant density: dense

Growth rate: slow

Texture: fine


Leaf arrangement: alternate

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: serrulate

Leaf shape: obovate; elliptic (oval)

Leaf venation: pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: deciduous

Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches

Leaf color: green

Fall color: no fall color change

Fall characteristic: not showy


Flower color: white

Flower characteristic: spring flowering


Fruit shape: round

Fruit length: less than 0.5 inch

Fruit cover: fleshy

Fruit color: red

Fruit characteristic: persists on the plant; showy

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: typically multi-trunked or clumping stems; not particularly showy; no thorns

Current year stem/twig color: gray/silver

Current year stem/twig thickness: thin


Light requirement: plant grows in part shade/part sun

Soil tolerances: loam; sand; acidic; slightly alkaline; extended flooding; well-drained

Drought tolerance: moderate

Soil salt tolerances: unknown

Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches


Roots: usually not a problem

Winter interest: plant has winter interest due to unusual form, nice persistent fruits, showy winter trunk, or winter flowers

Outstanding plant: plant has outstanding ornamental features and could be planted more

Pest resistance: no serious pests are normally seen on the plant

Use and Management

These small trees grow with many thin, grey trunks or stems arising from the ground in a clumping fashion. There are so many of them and they are so thick that they can act as a screen. Lower branches are often removed to form a small tree with a tight head of foliage along the outer portion of the crown. Interior leaves are often shaded out and drop from the tree. If lower branches are not removed, the plant develops into a large, spreading mound of foliage. Often found along stream banks in the wild, possumhaw tolerates wet soil and can be used to stabilize stream banks. It can also be utilized as a large accent shrub or small tree planted in a lawn area as a specimen. Allow for plenty of room for this plant to spread since they look their best when they develop a symmetrical canopy.

Possumhaw should be grown in full sun or partial shade on acid or alkaline, well-drained, moist soil. They would make a good plant for water retention ponds and other areas which regularly accumulate water.

There are a variety of cultivars developed for fruit color, fruit persistence and tree habit including 'Byers Golden'—yellow fruit; 'Council Fire'—persistent orange-red fruit well into the winter; 'Sentry'—hardy only to zone 6, columnar habit makes it potentially suited for planting in highway medians. There are other cultivars.

Pests and Diseases

There do not appear to be many serious problems affecting this tree.

Publication #FPS-270

Release Date:October 30, 2023

Related Collections

Part of Shrubs Fact Sheets

Related Topics

  • Critical Issue: 1. Agricultural and Horticultural Enterprises
Organism ID

About this Publication

This document is FPS-270, one of a series of the Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Revised October 2023. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus; Ryan W. Klein, assistant professor, arboriculture; and Gail Hansen, professor, sustainable landscape design; Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


  • Gail Hansen de Chapman