What Native Plants are Fruiting this Week?
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Last week we featured the American holly and now we continue the red berry theme with winterberry, a deciduous tree that often occurs in the wild as a shrub. This native plant shines in colder months with bright red berries developing just as its leaves drop in the fall. The berries may last until early spring as long as they aren't devoured by hungry birds.
Winterberry can be grown in all three regions of North Carolina and tolerates a wide range of soil and light conditions. Winterberry does best in moist habitats with adequate drainage and produces berries only when a male and female are both present (dioecious).
The winterberry leaves are alternate, with sharply toothed margins and a pubescent underside. The bark is thin, smooth and gray-brown to blackish in color. Subtle greenish-white flowers bloom from April to June. Cross-pollinated female plants produce bright red berries with a terminal black dot that ripen from August to December.
Winterberry attracts an abundance of native wildlife. It is the host plant for the Henry's elfin butterfly and serves as a food source for other important pollinators. Birds, such as the cedar waxwing, are especially drawn to the winterberry plant's nutritious berries. Mammals are often observed feasting on the berries and foliage or using the plant for shelter.