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The bright red persistent fruits of common winterberry glow in the winter landscape. This deciduous species of holly, native to the eastern US and Canada, is a dense multi-branched shrub. The summer foliage is glossy dark green turning yellow in fall. An excellent choice for wet sites, naturalized areas, or in the shrub border. Both male and female plants are needed for fruit.

This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.  

  • Family (English) Holly
  • Family (botanic) Aquifoliaceae
  • Tree or plant type Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Small shrub (3-5 feet), Medium shrub (5-8 feet), Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil, Wet soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Occasional flooding, Road salt, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Multi-stemmed, Round, Thicket-forming, Upright
  • Growth rate Moderate, Slow

Size and form:

Common winterberry is a 6 to 10 feet high and wide rounded shrub.

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 9. It is native to the eastern and midwestern United States and commonly found in swamps and wet areas. 

Attracts birds & butterflies:

More than 20 species of birds feed on the berries.  

Bark color and texture:

New twigs are reddish-purple developing a silvery color. Older bark is light gray often peeling to a diamond-like pattern. 

Leaf description:

The simple, alternate, elliptic leaves are 1 1/2 to 3  inches long with a finely toothed margin. They are glossy dark green in summer with a paler lower surface and turn yellow-green in fall.

Flower description:

The inconspicuous tiny white male and female flowers are on separate plants.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Bright red berry-like fruit (drupes) in fall that persist into winter. One male shrub will pollinate up to 5 female plants for fruit set.

Plant care:

Common winterberry grows best in full sun and in wet, acidic soil. It requires male and female plants for the fruit to set.

List of pests, diseases and tolerances:

There aren’t any serious pests. Chlorosis can occur in alkaline soils. It tolerates being flooded for extended periods of time and salt spray.

This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

Afterglow winterberry holly  (Ilex verticillata ‘Afterglow’):

This female shrub is compact, rounded, and five to eight feet high with orange to orange-red fruit. Jim Dandy is the male pollinator.

Berry Heavy® winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata ‘Spravy’):

This compact female shrub is 6 to 8 feet high and has orange-red fruit. Jim Dandy is the male pollinator.

Berry Nice® winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata ‘Spriber’):

This female shrub is compact at 6 to 8 feet high and produces bright red fruit. ‘Southern Gentleman’ or Jim Dandy is male pollinator.

Jim Dandy winterberry holly  (Ilex verticillata ‘Jim Dandy’):

This male shrub is 4 to 5 feet high. It is a pollinator for ‘Afterglow’, Berry Heavy®, Berry Nice®, and ‘Red Sprite’.

Red Sprite winterberry holly  (Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’):

A compact female oval-rounded 3 to 4 feet high shrub with large red fruit. Jim Dandy is male pollinator.

Southern Gentleman winterberry holly  (Ilex verticillata ‘Southern Gentleman’):

A male 6 to 9 feet high shrub. It is the pollinator for Sparkleberry, ‘Winter Red’, and ‘Winter Gold’.

Winter Red winterberry holly  (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’):

This female rounded 6 to 8 feet high shrub has abundant persistent red fruit. ‘Southern Gentleman’ is the male pollinator.


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