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Native Plant of the Week: Common Winterberry

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

Family: Aquifoliaceae

Name: Ilex verticillata - Winterberry

Bloom Time: June - July

Flower: White to light green

Fruit: Red in late fall through winter

Soil Condition: Moist - wet, adaptable

Light: Sun - partial shade

Height: 6-12' tall by 3-12' wide

Native Range: Eastern North America including Long Island

Photos: Male flowers (CC BY 3.0), Berries covered with snow (CC BY 3.0), Berries just beginning to turn red (KMS Native Plants), Shape with fall color (CC BY 2.0), Colletes banksi aka cellophane bee (KMS Native Plants), Female flower (KMS Native Plants)

Ilex verticillata is a deciduous (not evergreen) member of the Ilex (Holly) genus. Some say its green flowers are inconspicuous, but I find them rather charming, especially with all the early pollinators they attract. Winterberry does require acidic well-drained soil. If the soil is not acidic it will cause chlorosis (leaves turn yellow) and may kill the shrub. The fall color is yellow and turns a purplish-black before falling from the branches to reveal bright red berries. To have the bright red berries you need a male plant to cross-pollinate with the females. Only one male is needed for 6-10 females and he must be within 50 feet of the ladies. For the straight species, which is this one, you may plant the male straight species, 'Jim Dandy' or 'Southern Gentleman'. Female flowers will have a 'green nub' in their center. As seen in the picture above, Winterberry is a must for winter interest in the garden.

Maintenance: If necessary, prune to shape in late winter

Benefits: Nectar source, host plant to Henry's Elfin butterfly, songbirds eat the fruit, nesting site and cover for birds, great for rain gardens

Fun Facts: Members of the genus Ilex (Holly) support the earliest solitary ground bees, Colletes banksi aka cellophane bees (see picture above).

Noteworthy Cultivars:

'Red Sprite': a great dwarf cultivar reaching only 3' tall. Pollinated by: 'Jim Dandy', 'Raritan.'

'Winter Red': 9' tall. Pollinated by 'Southern Gentleman.'

'Winter Gold': For those that do not like the color red. This lady has orange-yellow berries. 5-8' tall. Pollinated by 'Southern Gentleman.'

Companion Plants: Cornus sericea - Red Twig Dogwood, Callicarpa americana - American Beautyberry, Viburnum dentatum - Arrowwood, Conoclinum coelestinum - Hardy Ageratum, Aquilegia canadensis - Wild Columbine



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