January: Winterberry

The winter landscape often seems grey and drab, but our plant of the month is so stunning at this time of the year that it's actually named after the season. Winterberry is a species of holly that performs excellently in the landscape. It is attractive all year long, but it truly shines in the winter months after the leaves drop and the brilliant red berries are showcased.

Winterberry is native to Indiana. It grows naturally in wet areas like bogs, stream banks, and low-lying woods all over eastern North America from Louisiana up to Canada. Unlike the hollies you may be more familiar with, winterberry is deciduous, which means it drops its leaves every fall. But like other hollies, it is dioecious, which means the species has separate male and female plants (you may remember that our November plant of the month, the ginkgo tree, is also dioecious). Only the female shrubs produce the red berries, and they can't produce berries without having a male plant nearby for pollination. One male shrub is enough to pollinate 6-10 female shrubs depending on how close together they are planted. Designers usually place the male shrub at the back of the planting or in a corner so it doesn't disrupt the winter show of the females. Male and female shrubs are marketed as different varieties with the male varieties typically having male names like 'Jim Dandy' or 'Southern Gentleman'. To get the best winter display, prune in early spring just before new growth begins.

Common Name: Winterberry

Scientific Name: Ilex verticillata

Notable Varieties: 'Red Sprite' (dwarf variety), 'Winter Gold' (orange-gold berries)

Light: full sun to part shade

Size: 6-10' tall and wide (many smaller varieties available)

Soil: loves acidic soil, can tolerate neutral soil, but should not be planted in alkaline soil; needs consistent moisture; tolerates swampy conditions

Blooms: inconspicuous white blooms in summer

Other Notes: native to Indiana; leaves drop in fall, unlike many other hollies

See other plants of the month.


Recommended Posts