From Holly to Hollywood
One of my favorite Arkansas native plants, yaupon holly, which occurs in all counties in southwest Arkansas, evolved in the Ouachita Mountains then spread south and east from there along the coastal plane. It’s a fascinating plant, because it’s the only North American plant with appreciable quantities of caffeine, and was the ceremonial beverage plant of all native groups in the Southeast. I like to think of it as America’s most important forgotten food and medicinal plant.
Now in a strange sort of way, it’s beginning to find its way into the news. First, I know of at least five companies now selling dried yaupon leaf beverage products (most in tea bags or loose-leaf tea), but I also saw a yaupon incense offered, and of all things, a yaupon branded cosmetic. Last week yaupon was featured in an on-line article published in Vogue on Savannah, Georgia, featuring the Yaupon Tea House.
Who would have thought that the first Yaupon knock-off celebrity endorsement would come from Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment? Maryse Mizanin, and her WWE Superstar husband Mike, co-stars of USA Network’s Miz & Mrs., has co-created the new Volition yaupon Tea Glow-Awakening Moisturizer which launched in November 2020.
And speaking of celebrities, back in 2014 a paper was published entitled, “A Misleading Name Reduces Marketability of a Healthful and Stimulating Natural Product: A Comparative Taste Test of Infusions of a Native Florida Holly (Ilex vomitoria) and Yerba Mate (I. paraguariensis), by Alisha E. Wainwright and Frank Putz, which appeared in the obscure plant nerd journal Economic Botany (I’ve subscribed since 1976…).
Wainwright, intent on a career as a scientist, instead made her way from holly research to Hollywood. Best known for her role in the Netflix series Raising Dion she is making a move to upgrade her acting career as co-star with Justin Timberlake of the forthcoming Apple TV+ movie Palmer, set to debut on January 29.
So, I’ve written about this plant several times in this column and sit here drinking a cup of yaupon tea now. The only thing holding back the plant’s fame, as revealed in Alisha Wainwright’s 2014 paper, is the scientific name Ilex vomitoria.