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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Ilex verticillata (L.) A. Gray

Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family)

Common Name:



Winterberry is a native shrub that grows at the edges of bogs and in low woods with slightly acidic organic soil.  Most are less than 5m tall with smooth gray bark and knobby lenticels.

Inconspicuous white flowers bloom in June and July on plants at least 3 years old. Like all the hollies winterberry is dioecious with male and female flowers on separate plants.  Flowers of both sexes have 5 to 8 petals and form in the axils of leaves on new twigs.

Winterberry is planted as a landscape shrub for its bright red fruit.  The “berries”, about 6 mm across, contain several seeds and remain on the twigs long after the leaves drop into mid-winter.  The fruit are eaten by birds and small mammals, but are poisonous to humans. The fruit is technically referred to as a “drupe” since the seeds are enclosed in a hard case or pit as in a cherry.  While mature plants produce many seeds, only a low percentage of seedlings become established, so the plants are slow to spread.

Leaves vary in size and shape but are alternate, coarse textured and more orless egg-shaped with a pointed tip and toothed edges. They drop by the end of October without first turning color. Both Wisconsin’s hollies, Winterberry and Mountain holly (Nemopanthus mucronatus) are deciduous. Most hollies, like the Christmas decoration American holly (Ilex opaca), are evergreen shrubs.

  • Origin of the name: Ilex, L. name for an evergreen oak; verticillata, L. arranged in whorls, refers to the flowers in clusters
  • Range:  Eastern N. Amer., Nfld. to Ont, s. to TX, FL
  • WI Range: Statewide
  • Common associates: Chokeberry, poison sumac, yellow birch
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FACW+
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 9 (S&W), C = 5 (MI)
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