Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)

Plant Info
Also known as: Common Winterberry Holly
Genus:Ilex
Family:Aquifoliaceae (Holly)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Origin:native
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):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: 6-petals

[photo of female flowers] 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.

[photo of male flowers (©Rob Routledge)] 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: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] 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.

[photo of bark] 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.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a bright red, round berry, ¼ to 1/3 inch diameter, containing 1 to several nutlets, and persists through winter.

Notes:

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.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Must have book: Pollinators of Native Plants

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds
  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants
  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Itasca Ladyslipper Farm - Native orchids, container grown

More photos

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

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.



(required)




Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.