The winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is a native plant that is found in swamps and wet woods throughout the East, ranging from Alabama up to Canada. This shrubby plant prefers acid soils and can grow to a height of about 20 feet when mature. Winterberries are deciduous (they lose their leaves in the winter,) with male and female flowers on separate plants. Therefore, both male and female plants are needed to produce their red berries which form in the fall and may persist well into the winter. It is this trait that provides the common name for the plant. These berries offer an emergency food source for many birds. Winterberries tend to form dense colonies of plants from seeds and sprouts, and are often employed for tree planting projects, since they grow in wet conditions. A number of ornamental varieties of winterberry have also been developed for the landscape, as well, and they are often planted in wet areas where other plants would not fare well— their bright, red fruit adding color to the landscape. Native Americans used the berry in a tonic, and the bark was used as an antiseptic, providing the nickname, “fever bush,” for this plant.
Article and photo by FCFCDB
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