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Ilex verticillata

Common Name(s):
Black alder, Winterberry, Winterberry Holly
'Afterglow' , 'Bright Horizon', 'Nana' - 5 ft., 'Winter Red'- 9 ft., 'Red Sprite', 'Sunset' 8 ft., 'Carolina Cardinal', 'Maryland B', 'Winter Gold'
Native Plants, Shrubs, Trees

Ilex verticillata, commonly called winterberry, is a deciduous holly that is native to eastern North America where it typically occurs in swamps, damp thickets, low woods and along ponds and streams. This is a slow-growing, deciduous shrub with an upright-rounded habit that typically grows 3-12’ tall. In the wild, it often suckers to form large thickets or colonies.  This plant is slightly salt tolerant.

The common name comes form the quite showy berries that will persist throughout the winter and often into early spring.

Regions:  Mountain, Piedmont, Coastal Plains

Seasons of Interest: 

  Leaf:  Fall                   Blooms:  Spring            Nut/Fruit/Seed:  Fall

Wildlife Value:  The Winterberry is a host plant for Henry's Elfin butterfly.  Butterflies nectar at the blooms.  Its fruits are eaten by songbirds and small mammals.  Members of the genus Ilex support the following specialized bee: Colletes banksiThis plant is mildly resistant to damage by deer.

Play Value: Wildlife Enhancement

Notes: Multiple Stem

Seed: Berry-like drupe

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  This plant is susceptible to damage from deer.  Occasional disease problems include leaf spots and powdery mildew. Plants do poorly in neutral to alkaline soils where they are susceptible to chlorosis (yellowing of leaves) and often die.


6-15 ft.; varies with cultivar
This plant has relatively inconspicuous greenish-white flowers appear in the leaf axils in late spring. Flowers, if properly pollinated, give way to a crop of bright red berries (1/4” diameter) in late summer to fall. The berries are quite showy and will persist throughout the winter (hence the common name) and often into early spring. Berries provide considerable impact and interest to the winter landscape.
The Winterberry grows in average, acidic, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. It is adaptable to both light and heavy soils, but prefers moist, acidic, organic loams. It has a good tolerance for poorly drained soils including wet boggy or swampy conditions (this species is native to swampy areas of Eastern North America). Winterberries are dioecious (separate male and female plants). Only fertilized female flowers will produce the attractive red berries that are the signature of the species. Generally one male winterberry will be sufficient for pollinating 6-10 female plants. Flowers appear on new growth. Prune to shape in early spring just before new growth appears.
Oval rounded; twiggy branches; multistemmed clump
Sun to partial shade; average to wet soil
Bright red berries on female plants; persists into winter
6-10 ft.
Growth Rate:
Slow to moderate
The Winterberry has alternate, simple, elliptic to obovate, toothed, dark green leaves (2-3” long). Fall color is usually negligible, but in some years leaves may turn attractive shades of maroon.
play, cpp, pollinator, playground, wet soil, deciduous, tsc, wet sites, bees, deer resistant, winter interest, birds, nectar, hedge, specialized bees, butterflies, salt tolerant, rain garden, wildlife, children’s garden, wet

NCCES plant id: 493

Ilex verticillata Form
Tom Potterfield, CC BY-NC-SA - 2.0
Ilex verticillata 'Bright Horizon' Ilex verticillata 'Bright Horizon' in fruit
Tom Potterfield, CC BY-NC-SA - 2.0
Ilex verticillata Fruit detail
Kerry Woods, CC BY-NC-ND - 2.0
Ilex verticillata Flower close up
Cranbrook_Science, CC BY - 2.0