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Wonderful Winterberry

It was a cold, drizzly day at nearby Aldridge Gardens. A bright red color near the lake caught my attention; and when I investigated, I found a colony of Ilex verticillata, or American winterberry, glowing in the damp, gray air.

Winterberries are deciduous hollies native to eastern North America from Texas to Florida, north to southeastern Canada. They are an important food source for numerous birds, including American robins, bluebirds, bluejays, cedar waxwings and many others. A flock of birds may descend on a winterberry bush and and strip it of its berries in one boisterous banquet! Many mammals, such as raccoons, squirrels and rabbits, also enjoy the fruit.

These are tough, easy-to-grow shrubs. Growing in full sun to partial shade, they love wet, acidic soil but will adapt to other conditions. They can do well in average garden soil. In wet soil they may sucker and produce colonies.

Like many other hollies, winterberries are dioecious, needing separate male and female plants to produce berries. They may blend into their surroundings much of the year; but their bright berries persist on bare branches long after their leaves have fallen, and they can be spectacular in the winter landscape, at least until the birds get them.

Here are another couple of views of the winterberries at Aldridge Gardens:

There are many cultivars of Ilex verticillata available. They can vary in form and size from about three feet up to sixteen feet at maturity. Berry color can also vary. 'Winter Gold' is a female cultivar that reaches about five to eight feet.

Winterberries can be a highlight of the winter garden; and if (when) your feathered friends discover them, watching all those happy birds can be a thrill, as well.

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Reader Comments (25)

That bright pink reflected in the lake is gorgeous!

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChristi {Jealous Hands}

Dear Deb, the American Winterberry is a new shrub to me, I still have so much to learn about native American plants! As far as I recall I have not seen them in California, maybe they don't grow here. Anyway, the color of the berries is quite spectacular in the winter landscape at Aldrige Gardens and you captured them beautifully in your photos. Great that they are such a good food source for the birds in winter, too.
Warm regards,

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterchristina

What beautiful shrubs your Winter Berries are, the photos that show a reflection in the water are stunning, double the pleasure!

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

Very lovely. A gift in winter.

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPhyllis

Love the gentle colours in these photos. Exquisite.

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDebra

Your shots of the winterberries are beautiful Deb! Such a bright spot highlighted against an otherwise subdued scene.

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

So lovely and delicate.

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Absolutely beautiful photos!
This type of Ilex is new to me, it looks like the leaves are very different to the European holly, which has razor sharp spiny leaves. Are the leaves soft?

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHelene

Doubly beneficial, very ornamental and beneficial for the birds too!

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Hi everyone! Thanks for visiting and commenting. Helene, yes the leaves are soft, quite different from our more traditional evergreen hollies. Deb

January 25, 2015 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

I love winterberry and use it in design. It looks best as you have shown though, with a natural look and space to grow. I especially like it reflecting off the water, a great use of the plant.

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

I really wish I had some winterberry! Looking at your pictures makes me feel very deprived. And I'm sure the birds feel the same.

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJason

You have introduced me to another new shrub, Debbie; this one sounds lovely sadly not for me it it needs water but something to remember for other gardens. Thank you.

January 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Lovely images Deb. I love plants with berries and will keep this one in mind. Along with many other plants you've mentioned in previous posts. I need a bigger garden!

January 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

Gorgeous, gorgeous images! They really add magic to the landscape--through their shape and their color. Thanks for all the great information, too!

January 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

Quite striking in red!

January 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Jones

They're new to me too, but I could hardly take my eyes off the first image, and the second and third one too, they could be framed and hung on a wall, so wonderful.

January 27, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercatmint

What camera did you use to take these shots?

January 27, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercatmint

I love Winterberries, and I have a couple planted by my front door. I have some growing wild in my woods as well, though they don't berry nearly as heavily and the cultivars I bought. They look so pretty growing in a bunch there in Aldridge! They definitely attract the birds. Last year the berries were eaten mostly by Bluebirds, but this year a flock of Robins got to them first.

January 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIndie

Hi, everybody! Catmint, I use a Panasonic DMC-FZ40. This is a hybrid between point and shoot and SLR. I have been very pleased with it! Deb

January 27, 2015 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

I haven't had the winterberry in the garden, I must say your photos of them in Aldridge Gardens:are extremely picturesque.

January 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair

I love my winterberries and so do the birds leaving very little berries for winter....what a stunning display.

January 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

Deb, I like the plant, its toughness and beauty, but your pictures.... especially the first one.... Beautiful!!!

January 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

Gorgeous! Winterberry grows wild here and I have been very impressed by the fruit set. I love your pictures, especially the ones with the winterberries reflected in the water.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

I love winterberry, and it grows abundantly here along the sides of the road, where its berries liven up the edges of the woods in early winter after the deciduous trees have lost their leaves. I would love to grow it, but it is one of many moisture-loving shrubs that don't thrive in my sandy soil -- so I just have to enjoy it in the wild (or in other people's gardens).

February 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJean

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