Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)

Plant Info
Also known as: Common Winterberry Holly
Family:Aquifoliaceae (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):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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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.


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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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,, via Wikimedia Commons, used under CC BY 3.0


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

Posted by: Anne H - Hennepin Co-Crow Hassan Regional Park
on: 2017-10-08 21:00:46

Found Oct 8, plant with red berries

Posted by: Timothy E - Coverdale pine county
on: 2017-10-31 19:51:16

I have a botonist friend who identifies plant for me and let's me discover common name. Its said I nd I and used it medicinally but as a fever reducer. How was it used and are berries edible or toxic. My wife and I move up here from southern Minnesota and I'm a it for what grows in our 10 acre swampy lot. Thanks.

Posted by: Lucy J - Hawk ridge trail system near Duluth
on: 2018-07-21 21:00:45

Very common on the trails above Duluth. Fruit were ripe in late July 2018.

Posted by: Tim Johnson - Dakota County
on: 2018-09-07 08:01:23

Lebanon Hills Regional Park on the shore of Jensen Lake

Posted by: Chris Plunkett - Finlayson
on: 2019-09-22 18:15:51

I have been seeing lots of this plant this year, growing in the woods and especially near wet areas . Lots of bright red berries. I can see they would be decorative, but are there other uses? Glad to know they are food for the birds, etc.

Posted by: Luciearl - lake shore
on: 2019-09-30 08:47:47

Grows along Cty Rd 77 wetland. Shows up nicely the end of Sept.

Posted by: LeAnn Plinske - Baxter
on: 2020-10-12 11:35:47

I photographed the 'tree' in Northland Arboretum around their Monet Pond.

Posted by: Susan Hess - Banning State Park
on: 2020-12-23 18:03:33

Seen very near the Kettle River. 10/2020

Posted by: B G - Lake Alexander area, Cushing , Mn
on: 2021-09-08 10:02:56

Quite the find! Red on green contrast ...

Posted by: Bonnie Hiniker - Whitefish chain Crow Wing co.,Blackberry area Itasca co
on: 2021-10-05 02:05:47

Also have these growing in Cass Co. near Hand Lake between Pine River& Longville MN near yellow birch,& Spirea alba. 10/02/21 good food for grouse & other birds.

Posted by: Eben Spencer - Itasca County
on: 2022-11-05 16:27:52

Seen on Itasca County Hwy 8 about a mile east of Scenic Hwy 7, NE Itasca County

Posted by: Mike Howe - Sherburne Co. North
on: 2023-07-19 13:45:04

Seen in Sherburne Co. just South of Princeton and E of Hwy 169 next to a swamp. Do not know if the plant is still there. It was observed years ago.

Posted by: Pam Enfield - Goodhue County Warsaw Township
on: 2023-07-20 15:01:09


Posted by: Ann Andersen - Gordon WI close to MN border
on: 2023-10-12 16:30:55

The winterberries have been spreading in our woods and appear to be outcompeting regular alders and hazel brush. I would say it is a very aggressive tree, when given the right conditions.

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