Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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?

Share

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

QUESTION:

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.

ANSWER:

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

Host plants for Painted Lady Butterflies (Vanessa cardui)
August 22, 2009 - I am looking for host plants for the Painted Lady Butterfly that I can plant in my school's (I am a teacher) native plant/butterfly garden. As part of the curriculum, each Fall our 2nd graders study ...
view the full question and answer

Plants for exotic pets
May 14, 2012 - I need to know what are some good native non-toxic plants for these species: Porcelain roach (Gyna lurida) from Kenya, Africa. Giant cave roach (Blaberus giganteus) from Central and South Americ...
view the full question and answer

Dead woody plants in wildlife garden in Austin
March 02, 2011 - I am an enthusiastic and pretty successful wildlife gardener, have studied my Wasowski "Bible", but I can't get any evergreens established in my yard! We live on blackland clay, which I amend with ...
view the full question and answer

Wildlife management tax exemption
May 15, 2007 - I live on 10 acres of prairie land near Austin. I want to learn about drying and pressing and gluing and preserving wildflowers as art in pictures and bookmarks and cards. My attempts have failed an...
view the full question and answer

Wildflower meadow for Arkansas
September 16, 2007 - We want to create a 1/2-1 acre wildflower style "meadow" using native plants that we can naturalize. I found information for our area (Central Arkansas) on this website that is helpful, but I am als...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.