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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.'