The striking winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a deciduous native holly of our local wetlands that really shows off its vibrant red berries after its leaves have dropped in the fall. The berries persist on the dark branches well into the winter, providing lovely contrast against a snow-covered backdrop, as well as an important food source for a variety of birds, including Eastern Bluebirds, American Robins, Hermit Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, Cedar Waxwings, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
Look for this shrub in low, damp areas where it creates fifteen-foot-high thickets. Stands of winterberry growing close to roadsides will invariably be “pruned” by people collecting the branches to add to holiday greenery. Let’s hope some were left for the birds!
Winterberry, like other holly species, requires the pollination of a female plant’s tiny white flowers by a nearby male plant (growing within 50 feet) in order to produce berries. Bumblebees love winterberry nectar and pollen and help in the pollination process.
Winterberry is an excellent native species to add to your garden plantings, not only for the color it adds to a winter landscape, but also for the nourishment it provides to our native birds.