Search for native plants by scientific name, common name or family. If you are not sure what you are looking for, try the Combination Search or our Recommended Species lists.
Ilex verticillata (L.) A. Gray
Common Winterberry, Winterberry, Michigan Holly, Black Alder
Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family)
Synonym(s): Ilex bronxensis, Ilex fastigiata, Ilex verticillata var. cyclophylla, Ilex verticillata var. fastigiata, Ilex verticillata var. padifolia, Ilex verticillata var. tenuifolia
USDA Symbol: ilve
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N), SPM (N)
The leaves of Common winterberry are not shaped with sharp teeth like other hollies and are not evergreen. The purplish green foliage turns black, in fact, with the first frost. The inconspicuous flowers, however, are followed by dense clusters of bright red berries that remain on the branches throughout winter. Winterberry is a globular, upright, medium-sized shrub, typically 6-10 ft. tall (to 20 ft. in some circumstances).
Extremely showy in late fall and early winter when covered with their bright red fruit, these shrubs are either male or female--a trait typical of the holly family. Birds are readily attracted to them. Since this shrub grows in both wet and dry sites, it is an adaptable naturalizer. The southern species Ilex decidua, found in thickets and moist sites from Virginia to Texas, also has the distinctive red fruit.
From the Image Gallery
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Dioecious
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: Up to about 20 feet tall, often much shorter.
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Red, Orange. Although technically drupes, the fruit is commonly referred to as berries.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White , Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul
DistributionUSA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: NB , NL , NS , ON , PE
Native Distribution: N.S. to FL Panhandle, w. to MN, s.e. MO & e. TX
Native Habitat: Swamps, Stream, river banks, Near lakes or ponds
Growing ConditionsWater Use: High
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist , Wet
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Moist, acidic soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam Medium Loam Clay Loam, Clay
Conditions Comments: Winterberry tolerates poor drainage and is quite winter-hardy. You must have both a male and female plant to have berries. The male must be the same species as the female and bloom at the same time. Because hollies are such popular landscape plants, it may be worth the risk to plant a female and hope there is a male nearby.
BenefitUse Ornamental: Fruits ornamental, Attractive
Use Wildlife: Cover, Nesting site, Nectar-insects, Fruit-birds.
Warning: All Ilex species may be somewhat toxic if ingested. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Henry's Elfin butterfly.
Value to Beneficial InsectsSpecial Value to Honey Bees
This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
PropagationDescription: Seeds germinate best if planted immediately after collection. They may be pretreated with double-stratification but the essential element seems to be time. Once internal conditions in the seed are right (it may take years), it will germinate in warm moi
Seed Treatment: Some benefit may be obtained from 30-60 days treatment at 68-86 degrees followed by 60-90 days of 41 degrees.
Commercially Avail: yes
Find Seed or Plants
View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.
Mr. Smarty Plants says
Winterberry holly not fruiting
October 22, 2009
Regarding Ilex verticillata, which I have planted in a partial sun, somewhere between all dry and all wet location, i don't see any red berries, and it's mid-october. We are in the 'burbs of just ...
view the full question and answer
Michigan native plants for shady, low traffic area
May 10, 2006
Hello, I am looking for a recommendation for a Michigan native groundcover. I live adjacent to the Rouge River watershed and want to buy the right thing. The location is shady, infrequently walked ...
view the full question and answer
National Wetland Indicator Status
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Georgia Native Plant Society - Atlanta, GA
Longwood Gardens - Kennett Square, PA
First United Methodist Church of Jefferson City - Jefferson City, TN
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE
BibliographyBibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Search More Titles in Bibliography
Web ReferenceWebref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter
From the ArchiveWildflower Newsletter 1992 VOL. 9, NO.1 - Research Update, Creating Native Lawn with Sod, Director's Report, What Makes Pl...
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Ilex verticillata in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Ilex verticillata in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Ilex verticillata
MetadataRecord Modified: 2022-10-18
Research By: TWC Staff