TREES & Plants

Common winterberry

The bright red fruits of common winterberry against a gray landscape are one of the grand sights of a Midwestern winter. This deciduous species of holly, native to the Northeastern US and Canada, also offers food to more than 20 species of birds, including the hermit thrush, thrashers, finches, and cardinals. The summer foliage is glossy dark green.  It is a substantial shrub, but more compact cultivated varieties have been developed. Use winterberry in full sun as a specimen or in a mixed border or shrub border or as part of a naturalized landscape. Both male and female plants are needed for fruit to be set.

Botanical name: 
Ilex verticillata
All Common Names: 
Common winterberry, Canada holly, Deciduous holly, Michigan holly, Virginia winterberry, Winterberry holly
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
  • Medium
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
  • Wet sites
  • Occasional flooding
  • Alkaline soil
  • Road salt
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
  • Wet soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Size Range: 
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
  • Small shrub (3-5 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Multi-stemmed
  • Rounded
  • Thicket-forming
  • Upright
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Massing
  • Hedge
  • Foundation
  • Mixed border
Time of Year: 
  • Early winter
  • Mid winter
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
  • Late fall
More Information: 

Shape and Form

6 to 10 feet high and wide; rounded form

Tree & Plant Care

Prefers moist to wet, acidic soil (native to swamps).  Tolerates being flooded for extended periods of time.
Requires male and female plants for fruit set.

Disease, pests and problems

No serious pests
Chlorosis can occur in alkaline soils

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 9
Native to the eastern United States

Attracts birds & butterflies

Attracts more than 20 species including hermit thrush, thrashers, finches, and cardinal

Bark color and texture 

Light gray stems

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate, elliptic leaves; 1 1/2 to 3 inches long with a finely toothed margin
Glossy dark green in summer; little to no fall color

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Inconspicuous; male and female flowers on separate plants

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Bright red berry-like fruit (drupes) in fall that persist into winter
Male shrub must be near females to pollinate them so they produce fruit

Cultivars and their differences

Afterglow (Ilex verticillata 'Afterglow'): female; fruit is orange to orange-red

Jim Dandy (Ilex verticillata 'Jim Dandy'): male; pollinator for 'Afterglow' and 'Red Sprite'

Red Sprite (Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite'): female; compact, growing 3 to 5 feet tall; red fruit larger than that of the species

Southern Gentleman (Ilex verticillata 'Southern Gentleman'): male; pollinator for 'Winter Red'

Winter Red (Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red'): female; abundant red fruit.