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BRIEF: Are Burford holly berries poisonous?


QUESTION:
We have several large burford holly plants with berries, on our church grounds. We have been told that some holly berries are poisonous. Can you assist me in defining whether burford holly berries are poisonous, toxic, etc., and to what extent?

ANSWER:

I am kind of releuctant to say much about holly, because that common name is applied to a lot of different kinds of plants from a variety of families. As common as it is in the South, I am not familiar with the specific toxic properties of Burford Holly, but I am going to assume that you have Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii Nana'. Holly species (member of the genus Ilex) contain caffeine, theophylline and related compounds as well as some toxic glycosides that cause vomiting and gastrointestinal problems. At high doses, with some species, the GI symptoms and CNS depressing effects of unknown principles can out weigh the stimulatory effects of the caffeine-like compounds. You don't want kids eating the holly berries - it is unlikely to kill them, but they will be pretty sick. Some holly species are used for beverages (mate in So. America for example) without too much trouble. I don't know where burford falls in the poison to food gradient, but I wouldn't eat any.