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Overview

Comprehensive Description

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Winterberry is most attractive during the fall and winter because of its persistent berries. It is cultivated as a landscape plant and there are many cultivars available. Another shrubby Holly species with deciduous leaves is Ilex decidua (Possumhaw), which is found primarily in southern Illinois. Possumhaw is similar in appearance to Winterberry, but its differs from the latter shrub by the following characteristics
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Description

This native shrub is 5-20' tall and sparingly to abundantly branched. The bark of twigs and young branches is gray or grayish brown and smooth, becoming covered with scattered white lenticels on older branches and the trunk. Deciduous alternate leaves occur along first-year shoots; these shoots are olive green, terete, and usually glabrous. The leaf blades are up to 3" long and 1" across; they are elliptic to ovate and shallowly serrated along their margins. The upper blade surfaces are medium to dark green and hairless, while their lower surfaces are pale green and slightly pubescent along the major veins. The slender petioles are up to ½" long and hairless to slightly pubescent.
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Description

Winterberry is an erect moderate sized shrub, growing to heights of 5 to 15 feet tall. The smooth bark of winterberry is gray to blackish, with knobby lenticels The dense branches of this shrub grow in a zigzag pattern with an upright spreading crown. The twigs are slender, with gray to gray-brown color and small buds.

The simple, smooth, obovate to oblong-ovate foliage is sharply double toothed, with medium fine texture. The deciduous leaves are arranged alternately along the stems. Each leaf is 1 1/2 to 4 inches long, with dark green summer color turning yellow in fall, then drop off by mid-October.

Small, inconspicuous, axillary, greenish to yellowish-white flowers bloom from April to July, after leaves have emerged. Like most others in the holly genus, winterberry is dioecious. Three years after planting, pistillate flowers begin to emerge in small clusters plants and staminate flowers develop on male plants with up to twelve flowers in a cluster; only now can plant gender be determined. Scarlet red to orange, globular fruit mature by late summer, often remaining on the plant into mid-winter. The berry-like fruit is about 1/4 inch in diameter, occurring singlely or in pairs, each containing 3 to 5 small nutlets. There are an average of 92,000 seeds per pound.

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USDA NRCS Plant Materials Program

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Distribution

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Winterberry is occasional in northern Illinois, but uncommon to absent elsewhere in the state. Habitats include bottomland woodlands, damp woodland borders, sandy flatwoods, soggy thickets, swamps, forested bogs and shrub bogs, and rocky banks of rivers. This shrub is found in both sandy and non-sandy woodlands, swamps, and thickets.
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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© NatureServe

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Distribution and adaptation

Winterberry is found throughout the eastern United States. For a current distribution map, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Website.

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USDA NRCS Plant Materials Program

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Winterberry is occasional in northern Illinois, but uncommon to absent elsewhere in the state. Habitats include bottomland woodlands, damp woodland borders, sandy flatwoods, soggy thickets, swamps, forested bogs and shrub bogs, and rocky banks of rivers. This shrub is found in both sandy and non-sandy woodlands, swamps, and thickets.
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Dispersal

Establishment

Planting units of winterberry are propagated by seed, rooted stem divisions, and stem cuttings alike. The germination is usually hindered by hard seed coats and embryo dormancy. Utilizing proper after ripening and cold moist stratification procedures, germination can be stimulated. Seed should be covered with at least 1/8 to 1/2 inch of soil on nursery beds. Fall seedings should be mulched for winter protection.

When seedlings are acquired, the sex of the plant is typically indeterminable, in contrast to those propagated vegetatively. In late fall root suckers can be directly dug and transplanted, while actively growing softwood cuttings are taken from late spring to mid-summer. The cuttings are first placed under glass or plastic, but once roots form and begin to grow, they can be transplanted into containers or nursery beds for further development.

Utilize standard tree and shrub planting procedures to plant bare rooted transplants, containerized, or balled and burlapped stock.

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USDA NRCS Plant Materials Program

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Associations

Faunal Associations

The flowers are cross-pollinated by bees and possibly flies. The Andrenid bees, Andrena tridens and Andrena virginiana, are two such floral visitors of Winterberry. Insects that feed on the leaves of this shrub include the moths, Harrisimemna trisignata (Harris' Three-Spot) and Thysanopyga intractata (Black-Shouldered Gray), and the larvae of a small fly, Phytomyza verticillatae (Winterberry Leafminer). Although the bright red berries are not a preferred source of food, they are eaten by many songbirds and some upland gamebirds (see Bird Table). Because they persist in good condition through the winter, the berries are particularly important as a source of emergency food during the winter. The seeds are distributed to new areas by these berry-eating birds. The White-Footed Mouse eats the berries and its seeds, while White-Tailed Deer browse on the leaves and twigs to a limited extent.
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Flower-Visiting Insects of Winterberry in Illinois

Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)
(information is restricted to Andrenid bees; insect activity is unspecified; observations are from Krombein et al.)

Bees (short-tongued)
Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena tridens, Andrena virginiana

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Ilex verticillata

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ilex verticillata

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Status

Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).

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Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Management

Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)

There are a number of ornamental varieties, selected for berry and leaf color, available from commercial nurseries. Local and regionally collected materials are available from native plant nurseries.

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It is important to plant both male and females within 40 feet of one another for adequate pollination. For wildlife plantings, it is advantageous to plant higher numbers of females. Weed control by mowing or chemical application is necessary to keep competing vegetation from over-topping winterberries.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Cultivation

The preference is partial sun, wet to moist conditions, and an acidic soil that is sandy or peaty. Significant problems with disease organisms and insect pests are rarely encountered. Temporary flooding is tolerated. Both male and female shrubs should be planted to encourage fruit set.
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Economic Uses

Uses: MEDICINE/DRUG

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Uses

The attractive bright red fruit of winterberry is eaten by small mammals and more than 48 species of birds. The leaves and stems of winterberry are not a preferred source of browse, but moose, whitetail deer, cottontail rabbits, and snowshoe hare do utilize this plant. The persistent bright red fruit of this shrub make it very popular for landscaping. It is recommended for planting in shady moist areas, even though its growth and form are best under open grown conditions.

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Risks

Warning

Warning: Although this shrub species is a good provider of wildlife food, its fruits are poisonous to humans.
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Wikipedia

Ilex verticillata

Ilex verticillata, the winterberry, is a species of holly native to eastern North America in the United States and southeast Canada, from Newfoundland west to Ontario and Minnesota, and south to Alabama.[1][2]

Other names that have been used include Black Alder Winterberry, Brook Alder, Canada holly ,[3] Coralberry, Deciduous Holly, Deciduous Winterberry, False alder, Fever bush, Inkberry, Michigan Holly, Possumhaw, Swamp Holly, Virginian Winterberry, or Winterberry Holly.
[citation needed]

The species occurs particularly in wetland habitats, but also on dry sand dunes and grassland. The berries are an important food resource for numerous species of birds.[4]

Description[edit]

Ilex verticillata is a shrub growing to 1–5 metres (3.3–16.4 ft) tall. It is one of a number of hollies which are deciduous, losing their leaves in the fall. In wet sites, it will spread to form a dense thicket, while in dry soil it remains a tight shrub. The leaves are glossy green, 3.5–9 cm long, 1.5–3.5 cm broad, with a serrated margin and an acute apex. The flowers are small, 5 mm diameter, with five to eight white petals.

The fruit is a globose red drupe 6–8 mm diameter, which often persists on the branches long into the winter, giving the plant its English name. Like most hollies, it is dioecious, with separate male and female plants; the proximity of at least one male plant is required to pollenize the females in order to bear fruit.[4][5][6]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

American Winterberry - foliage and unripe fruit in summer.

Medicinal[edit]

The berries were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes, the origin of the name "fever bush".[7]

Ornamental plant[edit]

Ilex verticillata - the American Winterberry - is prized as an ornamental plant in gardens for the midwinter splash of bright color from densely packed berries, whose visibility is heightened by the loss of foliage; therefore it is popular even where other, evergreen, hollies are also grown. The bare branches covered in berries are also popular for cutting and use in floral arrangements.

It is a tough plant which is easy to grow, with very few diseases or pests. Although wet acidic soils are optimal, the winterberry will grow well in the average garden. Numerous cultivars are available, differing in size and shape of the plant and color of the berry. At least one male plant must be planted in proximity to one or more females for them to bear fruit.

References[edit]

  1. ^ USDA . accessed 11.1.2011
  2. ^ Germplasm Resources Information Network: Ilex verticillata
  3. ^ Nova Scotia Wild Flora
  4. ^ a b New York Metropolitan Flora: Ilex verticillata
  5. ^ Digital Flora of Newfoundland and Labrador: Aquifoliaceae: Holly Family
  6. ^ Bioimages: Ilex verticillata
  7. ^ U.M. Ethnobotany . accessed 11.1.2011
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