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Winterberry: Our Native Holly

You're most likely familiar with the shiny, tooth-leaved, evergreen holly that adorns wrapping paper and garnishes holiday decorations, but you may not be aware of the holly that is native to eastern North America. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a deciduous shrub that grows along ponds, streams, and damp thickets. They can also be successfully grown in yards in full sun or partial shade.

Once the leaves turn yellow in autumn and fall from the plant, winterberry's true value in the landscape becomes evident. The clusters of bright red berries along the stems provide a beautiful contrast to a snowy background. Not only are they a welcomed splash of color in an otherwise all-white landscape, they provide a source of food for small mammals and 48 species of birds. Because the berries persist through the winter, they are particularly important as a source of emergency food during the late winter and early spring.

Winterberry is dioecious, which means that each plant is either male or female. Only the female shrubs will have berries, but of course, males shrubs are necessary to fertilize the female flowers. You only need one male shrub nearby to provide pollen for all the female shrubs your yard can hold! For the highest environmental benefits, plant only the straight species, and avoid cultivars.