Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)
|Also known as:||Common Winterberry Holly|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; moist to wet; woods, thickets, bogs, swamps, swales, shores, stream banks, wet ditches|
|Bloom season:||June - July|
|Plant height:||5 to 20 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: none MW: FACW NCNE: FACW|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Male and female flowers are usually borne on separate plants (dioecious), occasionally on the same plant (monoecious), and rarely a plant will produce perfect flowers (both male and female parts). All flowers are about ¼ inch across with 5 to 8 white petals that are spreading to reflexed. Female flowers have short sterile stamens, white turning brown with age, alternating with the petals and a prominent green ovary capped with a yellowish stigma in the center.
Male and perfect flowers have somewhat longer, yellow-tipped stamens alternating with the petals. Flowers are short-stalked and clustered in leaf axils along this year's new branches, female clusters with 1 to 3 flowers and male with 3 to 10 flowers.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are alternate and simple, 2 to 4 inches long, ¾ to 1¾ inches wide, somewhat variable in shape but more or less elliptic and widest at, above or below the middle, usually tapering to pointed tip, tapering at the base, on a hairy stalk about ¼ inch long. Edges are finely toothed, the teeth shallow often with a minute projection at the tip. The upper surface is dark green, hairless to sparsely hairy, the lower surface light green and hairy. Veins are prominent. New twigs are green, hairless to sparsley hairy becoming smooth and gray to brown second year.
Older bark is thin, smooth, grayish to brownish with scattered, pale horizontal lenticels (pores). Stems are erect, multiple from the base, the larger stems up to 2 inches diameter, and may create colonies from root suckers.
Winterberry is a native holly of eastern North America and reaches the western edge of its range in Minnesota. Its flowers are favored by bees and it's an important winter food source for birds and small mammals. It has long been available in the nursery trade with many cultivars available, though the cultivars are not as favored by either insects or wildlife. It is easily recognized when flowering and the numerous, short-stalked, red berries do stand out when fruiting, especially in winter, but male plants are not so easily recognized when not flowering. The leaves may help distinguish it from other shrubs with similarly shaped, alternate leaves: look for the network of prominent veins and teeth with minute projections at the tips.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Winterberry shrubs
- Winterberry shrub
- Winterberry with Woodbine
- multiple stems from the base
- flowering branch
- flowering branches
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka and Chisago counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Kanabec, Lake and Pine counties. Ilex verticillata male flower By Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org, via Wikimedia Commons, used under CC BY 3.0
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