University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
WINTERBERRY: OUR NATIVE HOLLY
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
you are looking for an easy care, native ornamental plant to add
color to the late
fall and early winter landscape, consider the winterberry. Also
known as winterberry holly or North
American holly (Ilex verticillata),
this relative of the evergreen hollies is “deciduous” (losing its
winter). It loses its dull green leaves in autumn, leaving an
attractive scarlet berries on every stem and branch. These are
arrangements, or just left in the landscape, if they aren’t devoured
populations of winterberry can be found from the eastern Canadian
Newfoundland and New Brunswick south to Virginia and as far west as
This shrub is generally found in swampy areas, wet thickets, and low
and is often seen in masses in such areas from highways. Winterberry
up to 10 to 15 feet tall, although they are generally half that
Cultivars for landscape situations generally range in height from 3
feet up to 6
is hardy for USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9 (to -20F average minimum
in winter, or lower), which includes much of New England except for
regions. Plant in full sunlight. This plant prefers acidic to
wet soil-- conditions which mimic its natural habitat. Planting it
near a pond
or stream is perfect. However, it also can be grown in drier soil or
shade, though may not spread as much.
ideal for wildlife landscaping as its dense, twiggy growth provides
sites for songbirds. Fruit are eaten by
red squirrels, cedar waxwings, catbirds, thrushes, and other birds.
is surprisingly disease-resistant, prone only to
occasional leaf spots or powdery mildew.
thing to keep in mind is that you will need to plant both male and
plants for fruit production. Purchase at least one male plant for
to four female plants, and plant close together.
also need to think about placement in the garden as this shrub is at
attractive stage from September through mid-winter when its branches
covered with brightly colored berries. In summer, this plant has
only tiny white
flowers. Leaves are pale to dark green and elliptical to round in
depending on cultivar.
cultivars (cultivated varieties) of winterberry grow well in this
part of the
country. In trials a few years ago at the University
of Vermont, best were ‘Jolly Red’, ‘Maryland Beauty’, ‘Winter Red’,
Red' is a favorite for cutting for arrangements as it is
multi-stemmed with an
abundance of bright red, medium-sized berries and dark green leaves
bronze in autumn. It can grow to nine feet tall. 'Winter Gold' has a
growth habit and produces attractive peach to gold-orange berries
paler as they age. A good male cultivar
for pollinating these is ‘Southern Gentleman”.
low hedge or mass planting, choose 'Red Sprite' with its tight
mature height of only 3 to 5 feet, which you may also find as
‘Nana’. It was
the 2010 Holly of the Year of the Holly
Society of America. 'Afterglow' too is
rather low, only reaching about 6 feet at most, and has lovely
berries. ‘Jim Dandy’ is a good male pollinator for these, as well as
for the 5-foot
‘Maryland Beauty’, the 8-foot ‘Stoplight’, or the 9- to 10-foot
Beauty’ has dense cluster of dark red fruit along stem, developing
early. It is the cultivar often grown
commercially for its cut stems, and was Holly of the Year for 2008.
‘Jolly Red’ is an older cultivar, originally from
Connecticut, with large berries.
names for the same plant—a newer cultivar with deep red fruit.
is a hybrid of the winterberry species with an Asian species, the
holly (serrata), bred in the 1970’s
by the USDA. The result is a shrub, 10-
to 12-feet high, with young leaves that are plum colored, and large
fruit that ripen early. But it is not as
hardy (USDA zone 6 reliably, or -10F) as the other winterberries.
Use the hybrid cultivar ‘Apollo’ for
are only a few of the good winterberries available. Check with your
local full service garden
center or nursery for their recommendations.