En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - February 17, 2008

From: Waynesboro, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Wildlife Gardens
Title: Plants for birds in Virginia
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Hi there, I would like to plant some bird-friendly shrubs in my backyard, here in the Shenandoah Valley. I have read that birds like winterberries, and I think they are gorgeous. But, this is mid-February, and I see so many winterberry shrubs that still are covered with berries, it makes me wonder if the birds really like them. Thanks.


Ilex verticillata (common winterberry) is, indeed, considered an excellent winter food source for birds, as well as small mammals like squirrels, and even deer. One of the articles we found on winterberry says that birds turn to it in late winter when their favorite foods are gone. Another article referred to it as an emergency food source for birds. Perhaps the reason you are still seeing so many berries on the plants in your neighborhood is that "late winter" or an "emergency" have not yet arrived. If it's not a first choice for birds, and the weather has been mild this winter, they may still be feasting on berries that would ordinarily be frozen and gone by now. That's just speculation on our part; who can tell with birds?

It is, however, a good native choice for landscaping if you don't mind a deciduous holly. Everyone thinks of hollies as having those lovely, glossy, sharp-pointed leaves, and the winterberry is going to drop those in the winter. Another thing you should know about the winterberry is that it is dioecious, which means there must be two sexes available in order for berries to appear. The female has the berries, and you really only need one male around, but it needs to be within about 100 feet of the females. And, finally, before you make a decision to put these in your landscape, be aware that the berries are toxic to humans, especially small children.

You'll find more information in this article Winterberry Holly, Songbirds and the Winter Landscape.

Ilex verticillata

Ilex verticillata



More Wildlife Gardens Questions

A list of bloom times for wildflowers in Michigan
July 03, 2013 - Hello, I am new to bee keeping and live in central Michigan. Can you tell me or do you know where I could find a list of the Michigan wild flower bloom times? This would be very helpful to me. Than...
view the full question and answer

Luring wildlife in Longview
March 27, 2005 - I live in Longview, Texas and am in the process of trying to restore a natural habitat for wildlife in my area. Could you give me a list of plants that are native specific so that I can lure local bi...
view the full question and answer

Perennial native plant to attract butterflies/hummingbirds
January 24, 2013 - Need 3-6 foot perennial native plant to attract butterflies/hummingbirds in Paris Texas...full sun, with sprinkler system
view the full question and answer

Importance of native plants for wildlife.
March 04, 2008 - I just read Donald Tellamy's new book,Bringing Nature Home. He documents how native plants provide more nourishment for wildlife than introduced plants. The definition of native plants that I use is ...
view the full question and answer

Dutchman's pipe vine dying in Fitchburg ME
August 15, 2012 - I have 2 dutchmans pipe vines they have been growing for over 20 years. Now all of a sudden the foliage is wilting and dying. The other one is completely fine. What would cause this?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center