Ilex macrophylla Blume
Ilex tarajo Göpp.
Common Name: Tarajo
Ilex latifolia is an evergreen tree with a dense, round to pyramidal crown; it can grow up to 10 metres tall and around 5 metres wide[
This is one of the two principle Ilex species that are used to make a tea-like drink that is very popular in parts of China and other parts of east Asia. Known as 'large-leafed ku ding cha', it has a long history of use, going back at least 2,000 years, as a health-promoting beverage[
]. The plant is sometimes also grown as an ornamental
Ilex latifolia has a very wide distribution, large population, is not currently experiencing any major threats and no significant future threats have been identified. The plant is classified as 'Least Concern' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2019)[
Although no specific reports of toxicity have been seen for this species, Ilex species in general contain several potentially toxic compounds, particularly saponins, glycosides and triterpenoids. These compounds also often have a range of potential health benefits[
The berries are usually the part of the plant most likely to be toxic, though the degree of toxicity is usually low. Their bitter flavour usually prevents a person eating more than one or two, but even a small handful of the fruit eaten by a healthy adult is unlikely to cause more than feelings of nausea that can lead on to vomiting and diarrhoea[
The compounds in the leaves are particularly interesting. The leaves of many Ilex species around the world are commonly used to make health-promoting teas that, when drunk on a regular basis, help to regulate bodily functions and can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood-cholesterol levels etc (See Ilex paraguariensis or Ilex kaushue for examples)[
]. Even these teas, however, if taken in very concentrated doses, can act as a laxative or cause vomiting. Indeed, several species are used by traditional peoples to induce vomiting as a means of purifying the body (see Ilex guayusa or Ilex vomitoria for examples)
E. Asia - southern China, central and southern Japan.
Evergreen broad-leaf forests, shrub forests and bamboo forests at elevations of 200 - 1500 metres[
One report says that this species is hardy to about -15°c[
], another that it is hardy to about -5°c[
], whilst others say that it is not fully hardy outside the milder areas of the temperate zone[
]. Plants succeed but they do not thrive outdoors at Kew Gardens (zone 7), though they thrive just a few miles south of there[
Prefers a position with some shade[
]. Succeeds in most soils so long as they are not water-logged, preferring a well-drained soil[
]. Established plants are very drought tolerant[
Resents root disturbance, especially as the plant grows older[
]. It is best to place the plants into their permanent positions as soon as possible, perhaps giving some winter protection for their first year or two[
Plants are very tolerant of pruning and can be cut right back into old wood if required[
A dioecious species - both male and female forms must be grown if fruit and seed are required.
The leaves are used as a tea substitute[
]. Refreshing, stimulating and thirst-quenching. A bitter flavour, though with a somewhat sweet aftertaste. The tea is rich in micronutrients but contains no caffiene. A popular drink in parts of east Asia, its regular consumption is said to have various health-promoting benefits, helping to regulate a range of body functiond[
]. Its most important biological activity is probably its effect upon lipid metabolism and blood circulation, helping in the prevention of conditions such as arteriosclerosis and hypertension[
The roasted seed is used as a coffee substitute[
A tea made from the leaves is said to quench thirst, refresh the mind, improve eyesight, and remove phlegm[
]. It has also been used to treat a range of conditions, including the common cold, malaria, rhinitis, itching eyes, inflammation of the mouth, conjunctival congestion, headaches, swelling and pain. It is helpful for improving the digestion and alleviating the adverse effects of alcohol[
The leaves contain a number of health-promoting compounds, including triterpenoids, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. Amongst their many health benefits, these compounds are strongly antioxidant, they regulate lipid metabolism, can protect the cardiovascular system and prevent cancer[
An extract of the leaves is used as an ingredient in commercial cosmetic preparations as a skin protector[
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. It can take 18 months to germinate. Stored seed generally requires two winters and a summer before it will germinate and should be sown as soon as possible in a cold frame. Scarification, followed by a warm stratification and then a cold stratification may speed up the germination time[
]. The seedlings are rather slow-growing. Pot them up into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame for their first year. It is possible to plant them out into a nursery bed in late spring of the following year, but they should not be left here for more than two years since they do not like being transplanted. Alternatively, grow them on in their pots for a second season and then plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Give them a good mulch and some protection for their first winter outdoors.
Cuttings of almost ripe wood with a heel, August in a shaded position in a cold frame. Leave for 12 months before potting up.
Layering in early autumn. Takes 2 years.