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Winterberry Holly: A Deciduous Native Holly with Breathtaking Berries

A Holly that Drops Its Leaves and Holds Its Berries All Winter


The Berries of Winterberry 'Aurantiaca' - (Ilex verticillata)

The Berries of Winterberry 'Aurantiaca' - (Ilex verticillata)

Photo Courtesy of Proven Winners Color Choice

When most people think of holly, the image conjured up is one of bright red berries, glossy evergreen foliage and Christmas decorations. So when you talk to the average homeowner about deciduous holly (Ilex verticillata) they look at you as if you were a moron. That's because many people consider deciduous holly an oxymoron.

A holly has glossy evergreen leaves, right! No, not always. Ilex verticillata, Winterberry Holly, or Winterberry is our native, wetland holly that loses it leaves each autumn. This beautiful shrub is all the more showy because its lack of winter leaves makes its berry display all the more showy. After the leaves have turned yellow and have fallen off, you are left with a breathtaking view of thousands of brightly colored berries clinging to every stem. What a joy to have such color in the middle of winter.

Cultural Notes on Growing Winterberry Holly

Ilex verticillata is an amazing plant with a tremendous geographical range and a very diverse genetic expression.

  • Range: The native population of Ilex verticillata stretches from Nova Scotia, south to Florida and west to Missouri. It can be found throughout Michigan in low grounds, moist woods, swamps and occasionally in higher, drier soils.

  • Soil Preference: Even though it is most commonly found in low swampy soils, it can also be grown quite successfully in your average garden soils.

  • Problems: It is an easy to grow plant that has few serious insect or disease problems.

  • Size: As for its genetic variation, this plant can range in heights from 3 feet to 15 feet. The width of the plant is also variable.

  • Growth Habit: In wet sites it normally suckers to form a dense spreading thicket. In drier garden soils, it tends to form a tighter clump.

Season of Interest

At blooming time this plant has little to attract attention. It has very small, inconspicuous white flowers, with male flowers and female flowers found in different individual plants. It is autumn, however, when this plant comes into its own, when its slender branches are draped with small but numerous berries right to the branch tip. The berries remain on the plant until midwinter adding color to the landscape when it is most needed. To facilitate a good berry set it is advisable to purchase at least one male for every three to five female plants and to plant the male in close proximity.

There are so many wonderful winterberry Hollies, you are sure to find one that would dazzle in your yard. Take a look at the variety available in winterberries.

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