Winterberry Holly – Ilex verticillata
Well this shrub at least has name that reminds us of why we love them – winter berries! A holly that doesn’t act like the hollies you’re familiar with – not prickly and not evergreen – and native to boot.
Versatile plants, they grow in full sun and in the forest understory, and from average soils to wet muck. Small bees pollinate the spring flowers, and like many hollies, plants are either male or female.
You must have at least one male in the area as a pollinator or no berries will form on the female plants. The ratio doesn’t have to be 1:1, and males can be many feet away if necessary. Berries start showing color in late summer or fall and tend to last most of the winter, since the birds don’t like them fresh. Cut branches are a great holiday decoration if you keep them dry and away from adventurous children (holly berries are harmful if ingested).
There are many varieties around today, differing mostly in plant size and berry characteristics. Those we have in stock now are Berry Nice®, Berry Heavy®, and ‘Winter Gold.’
The first two are very similar, with a 6-8’ mature height and tons of medium-sized red berries. The latter is the same height, but with berries that are a golden-apricot color. Males for pollination are ‘Jim Dandy’ and ‘Southern Gentleman.’
Two hybrids with Japanese Winterberries were introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum: ‘Sparkleberry’ (female) and ‘Apollo’ (male). Both are faster growers and mature taller at around 8-10’ with plum-purple new leaves.
‘Sparkleberry’ berries ripen the earliest and are smaller but profuse. While not known for fall leaf color, I have seen vibrant golden-yellows on both ‘Southern Gentleman’ and ‘Winter Gold.’
By Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Buyer/Manager