Wetland Shrubs – Winterberry

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a fairly dense, upright shrub with a spreading crown. Best known for its natural occurrence in wetland habitats in eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada, it also performs very well as a landscape ornamental. This is one of my favorite shrubs, mostly because the bright red-orange fruit persists well into the winter. Like Cardinals, the fruit contrasts beautifully with snow and the vivid green of the conifers with which it is often associated. In addition to its aesthetic value, the fruit is eaten by nearly 50 species of birds, and some small mammals too.

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Winterberry fruit in winter

Winterberry produced a heavy crop of bright red-orange fruit this year and with most of the foliage of deciduous plants gone, it is visible from a considerable distance.

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One of several large clumps of Winterberry in a poorly drained, wetland habitat.

Winterberry, a deciduous holly, is dioecious, i.e. plants are either male or female. At least one male must be in close proximity to females in order for successful pollination and fruit production to occur. For the most part, male plants go unnoticed in the landscape and can be somewhat difficult to identify in winter.

Apparently, this was a good year for pollination because most of the wild plants (females of course) are loaded with fruit!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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11 thoughts on “Wetland Shrubs – Winterberry

  1. Beautiful. They look much like our holly berries, but the leaves don’t appear to be as lethally sharp. I used to have dozens of robins lined up on the fence waiting for their chance at the berries. They acted as if they were a bit drunk afterwards.

    • Thanks Gunta. Sometimes these “still life” shots are more challenging for me than a critter running or flying at 30 miles an hour! The holly in the East that matches your description of thick, evergreen leaves with stiff, sharp teeth on the margins is American Holly (Ilex opaca). Its primary range is the Southeast so I don’t see it in the wild around here.

    • I really appreciate your comments – thanks. Interesting that you favor the second pic. I decided early on that I wanted an environmental shot that included the site and entire plant, but had no idea how to capture that in an interesting/appealing way. I sloshed around in the muck for a while, then clawed my way through a willow thicket to a clearing in the swamp – and there was my shot!!! Needless to say, it’s my favorite too. 🙂

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