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Plants We Love: Winterberry

November 6, 2013 at 11:37 am

winterberryNo winter holiday celebration is complete with out some Ilex verticillata, or Winterberry. Sprigs of this hardy shrub adorn many centerpieces, mantles, and wreathes during the cold, bitter months. For this reason, among others, we love the Winterberry.

During the winter, when the only color in the landscape comes from conifer trees, bushes of Winterberry can provide a bright swash of color. The 3 to 16 feet tall shrubs lose their leaves as other deciduous plants do in the fall, but their fruit remains. There are other kinds of red berry hollies, some evergreen, but the Winterberry is distinctive with its bare branches adorned only with clusters of tiny red fruits.

Through the spring and summer months, the Winterberry blooms with tiny, delicate white flowers with anywhere from five to eight petals. The small, unassuming flowers are quite popular with honeybees and other pollinating insects. The leaves are a vibrant glossy green, with a slightly serrated edge. In the fall, they may turn yellow before dropping, although there isn’t always a change in color.

Like many of the plants we love, Winterberry is now cultivated as an ornamental plant, but has historical origins. Native Americans cultivated the Winterberry as a medicinal plant for fevers (and aptly named ‘fever bush’). Also, many species of birds rely on the Winterberry for food, so be prepared for avian visitors if you plant these shrubs in your landscape

Another reason Winterberry is one of the plants we love is how easy it is to grow. It is a hardy plant that is not plagued by many diseases or pests. A native of the east coast of North America, Winterberry can grow as far west as Missouri and Texas, as far a south as Florida, and as far north as Ontario and Quebec. The plant prefers wet acidic soil, but can grow elsewhere, including dry soils. Please note, if you want your Winterberry to bear the fruit that it is known for, at least one male plant needs to be near the females (no more than 15 females to 1 male) to pollinate. It can also grow in partial or full sun.

With a few of these remarkable shrubs planted in your landscaping, you will see why the Winterberry is one of the plants we love. Once the other plants have shown their color and withered in winter, the bright, red berries of theIlex verticillata will stand out, making a statement for all to see.