The winterberry is a deciduous shrub known for its display of bright fruit during winter. It is common in wetlands throughout the east coast of North America.
The winterberry can grow six to fifteen feet tall. New, cultivated varieties have been bred to be smaller. The bark is smooth and gray. Green leaves remain on the plant from spring through fall. Red drupes (berries) remain on the plant from fall through late winter.
Small white flowers appear from April to June. The male flowers and female flowers have a slightly different appearance. Female flowers show a small green bulge in the center and males have a recessed center.
48 species of birds, small mammals, and deer will eat the drupes of the winterberry. By eating the fruit, these animals help to spread the seed of the winterberry.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The winterberry is a dioecious plant, meaning a male plant is needed to pollinate a female plant. One male must be within 40 feet of the female plant for successful pollination. One male can pollinate up to five female plants. Small white flowers appear from April through June.
The drupes will appear in late summer at the same time that the plant loses its leaves. The berries will last through winter. The plant gender can only be determined when there are flowers or fruit. The plant will begin to grow new leaves in the spring. Small mammals, many species of birds and deer will eat the drupes of the winterberry. By eating the fruit, these animals help to spread the seed of the winterberry.
Did You Know?
- The winterberry thrives in fertile, well-drained moist acidic soil in full sun to partial shade. Although it will tolerate shade, too much shade will reduce the amount of fruit produced.
- In ornamental gardens the winterberry is an excellent replacement for nonnative species like the Japanese barberry, autumn olive, linden viburnum and wineberry.
- The drupes help fuel gray catbirds through their annual migration and help eastern bluebirds and cedar waxwings survive the winter.
- The Iroquois used parts of the winterberry as an antiseptic and as a tea to treat nausea.
Sources and Additional Information
- Ilex Verticillata - Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia
- Winterberry - University of Minnesota Extension
- Rain Garden Plants: Winterberry - Clemson Cooperative Extension