common winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Ilex bronxensis Britton
Ilex fastigiata E.P.Bicknell
Ilex verticillata (L.) A.Gray subsp. tenuifolia (Torr.) E.Murray
Ilex verticillata (L.) A.Gray var. cyclophylla B.L.Rob.
Ilex verticillata (L.) A.Gray var. fastigiata (E.P.Bicknell) Fernald
Ilex verticillata (L.) A.Gray var. padifolia (Willd.) Torr. & A.Gray
ex S. Watson
Ilex verticillata (L.) A.Gray var. tenuifolia (Torr.) S.Watson
Ilex verticillata (L.) A.Gray var. verticillata
Prinos padifolius Willd.
Prinos verticillatus L.
Prinos verticillatus L. var. tenuifolius Torr.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of common winter-
berry is Ilex verticillata (L.) A. Gray.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Common winterberry
is a deciduous holly. This is a large shrub or small tree that can get 25 ft.
(7.6 m) tall, but is usually considerably smaller. In cultivation winterberry
usually grows as a 6-12 ft (1.8-3.7 shrub. The trunk is short and generally
branches close to the ground, and the stout, erect to spreading branches
bear slender twiggy branchlets, producing a rounded crown, 8-12 ft (2.4-
3.7 m) across. Common winterberry often suckers and grows in a multi-
stem med clump, and may form a thicket of erect stems. The leaves are
alternate, simple, broadly elliptic, variable in size, sometimes even on a
single branch, ranging from 1-4 in (2.5-10.2 cm) long and half as wide.
They are finely toothed along the margins and the apices are usually
acuminate, which is to say the leaf tips taper to a point and the sides of
the taper are concave. Usually the leaves are smooth above and hairy
beneath. If the leaves haven't fallen by the first hard frost, they turn black,
hence the common name, "black alder." Like many hollies, winterberry is
dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. The flowers
are small, have four white petals, less than 1/4 inch long, the male parts
sometimes separate from the female parts; male flowers up to 25 in a
stalked cluster from the axils of the leaves; female flowers 1-3 in stalkless
clusters from the axils of the leaves; flowers with both stamens (5-8,
exserted beyond the petals) and pistils (5-8, white, free from each other)
also present. The fruits are globose red berrylike drupes, about 0.25 in
(0.6 cm) in diameterseeds, 5-10, smooth, 1/8-1/6 inch long. . They usually
persist after leaf fall in the autumn, hence the common name. There are a
great many cultivars of this popular landscape shrub. 'Winter Red' is per-
haps the most popular, and deservedly so. It is a bushy shrub with multiple
stems that bear a profusion of large bright red fruits which persist through
the winter longer than other selections. 'Nana' (a.k.a. 'Red Sprite') is a
dwarf cultivar which bears large berries, but gets only 2-4 ft (0.6-1.2 m)
tall. There are forms with yellow and orange fruits which occur occasionally
in nature and may be available from native plant nurseries. Ilex verticillata
has been hybridized with other deciduous hollies (especially Ilex serrata,
Japanese winterberry), and several selections of these are available to
REGENERATION PROCESS: Common winterberry propogates itself
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Common winterberry does best in moist
or poorly drained, slightly acidic soils with a high organic component.
Leaves will yellow in neutral soils and the plant will likely die in alkaline
soils. Most hollies are rather slow growing plants and winterberry is no
exception. Common winterberry preferns full sun to partial shade; it flowers
and fruits better in full sun.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Insufficient information is currently avail-
able concerning the successional status of common winterberry. However,
in natural settings and with its prefernce for full sun, it is probably most
successful in initial and mid- successional stages, less successful in more
mature canopy situations. This shrub may survive in more mature settings
if it is on the periphery of forest settings, such as may occur along a river
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Common winterberry flowers from May
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Common winterberry grows in swamps
and wet woods from Nova Scotia and Quebec, west to Minnesota and south
to Arkansas and the Florida Panhandle.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Shrub specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Common winter-
berry is found in most environments where a source of constant water is
available. This includes bogs, boreal forests, northern lowland forests,
Northern Upland Forests, Pine Barrens, Southern Lowland Forests, and
Southern Upland Forests.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Many kinds of birds eat the fruits and often
the shrubs are stripped bare before Christmas.
Common winterberry is a great shrub for wet areas in the landscape. Use
it in shrub borders or in masses for its winter berry display. Winterberry
is a good choice for an unclipped hedge. It looks great in front of evergreens.
The cultivar,'Winter Red' is frequently used in highway plantings.
Winterberry branches with their showy red berries are used for Christmas
decorations, and there is a commercial industry cultivating the plants for
that purpose. 'Oosterwijk' is a cultivar named in the Netherlands and grown
there for the branches which are exported around Christmas time. Use
them dry (don't put in water) and they will keep for months indoors.
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