Friday, February 26, 2010

Berries in Winter !!!

Winterberry … what a great name for this deciduous holly that is in all its glory after a winter snow storm. Its official common name is Common Winterberry. Its Latin name is Ilex verticillata and plant people will recognize that Ilex is the same genus as the other hollies, most of which, are evergreen.

Winterberry holly drops its leaves in the fall. And that is what makes it such a show-off in the dormant season. Add a background of drifted, white snow and you have a spectacular landscape plant. It’s not surprising that cultivar names include Stoplight, Wildfire, Red Sprite and Sparkleberry. Depending on the cultivar, they will grow to a height of 5 to 12 feet.

This plant has several qualities that make it a good choice for Pennsylvania landscapes. It has very few pest problems….I’ve never seen a splotch or a notch from disease or insect damage. It thrives in wet sites, which broadens its potential as a landscape plant. And then there is the fruit. Many plants produce interesting fruit but the combination of the brilliant, red color and the lack of competition or camouflage makes Winterberry holly fruit really special. And it hangs in there until late winter, long after most fruit has dropped or been eaten by birds.

Like the other hollies, winterberry has male and female plants. Bet you never thought of that. Most plants are hermaphrodites… male and female parts on the same plant or even in the same flower. Hollies are like us…separate sexes. This means that you will need to plant a male holly along with the showy, fruit-bearing females so that pollination, and fruit set occurs. Your nursery or garden center will help you select the right male. You can tuck him nearby and Mother Nature and the bees will do the rest.

There are many cultivars of Winterberry holly to choose from. Longwood Gardens and the Scott Arboretum have excellent collections. There are even yellow fruiting forms. Some are hybrids of Ilex verticillata and Ilex serrata, Japanese Winterberry.

Longwood Gardens researchers recently evaluated winterberry holly cultivars. Check out the results in a two part (part 1) (part 2)wrtite-up in American Nurseryman Magazine The National Arboretum has great info, too.

1 comment:

Jim Resch said...

Thanks for a great article! Note that 'Red Sprite' has been selected as the Holly of the Year for 2010 - - it's a great choice for SE Pennsylvania and the surrounding area.