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Winterberry Ilex verticillata


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Winterberry, leaves & mature fruit
credit: Dendroica cerulea (John B.)/CCSA

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Alternate name: Common Winterberry, Michigan Holly, Black Alder

Family: Aquifoliaceae, Holly view all from this family

Description Ilex verticillata (American Winterberry) is native to eastern North America in the United States and southeast Canada, from Newfoundland west to Ontario and Minnesota, and south to Alabama.

It is a shrub growing to 1–5 m tall. It is one of a number of hollies which are deciduous, losing their leaves in the fall. In wet sites, it will spread to form a dense thicket, while in dry soil it remains a tight shrub. The leaves are glossy green, 3.5–9 cm long, 1.5–3.5 cm broad, with a serrated margin and an acute apex. The flowers are small, 5 mm diameter, with five to eight white petals. The fruit is a globose red drupe 6–8 mm diameter, which often persists on the branches long into the winter, giving the plant its English name. Like most hollies, it is dioecious, with separate male and female plants; the proximity of at least one male plant is required to pollenize the females in order to bear fruit.

The species occurs particularly in wetland habitats, but also on dry sand dunes and grassland. The berries are an important food resource for numerous species of birds.

Warning All Ilex species may be somewhat toxic if ingested. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Habitat Cities, suburbs & towns, Swamps (fresh & salt), Watersides (fresh).

Range Southeast, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes, Plains, Florida, Texas.

Comments Winterberry tolerates poor drainage and is quite winter-hardy. You must have both a male and female plant to have berries. The male must be the same species as the female and bloom at the same time. Because hollies are such popular landscape plants, it may be worth the risk to plant a female and hope there is a male nearby.

Exposure Preference Shade to partial shade.

Flower April - June

Native Distribution Nova Scotia to Florida Panhandle, w. to Minnesota, s.e. Missouri & e. Texas

Site Preference Swamps; bogs

Soil Preference Moist, acidic soils. pH 4.5-6

Wildlife Value Berries attract many bird species.