The Morton Arboretum logo

TREES & plants

Common winterberry

The bright red persistent fruits of common winterberry glow in the winter landscape. This deciduous species of holly, native to the Northeastern US and Canada, is a dense, multi-branched shrub. The summer foliage is glossy dark green turning yellow in fall. An excellent choice for wet sites, naturalized area or in the shrub border.  Both male and female plants are needed for fruit.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


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
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Massing
  • Hedge
  • Foundation
  • Mixed border
Size Range: 
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
  • Small shrub (3-5 feet)
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
  • Wet soil
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Persistent fruit/seeds
  • Showy fruit
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter
  • Mid winter
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Multi-stemmed
  • Round
  • Thicket-forming
  • Upright
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
  • Moderate
  • Birds
More Information: 

Shape and Form

6 to 10 feet high and wide; rounded form.
Cultivars are more compact and smaller.

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun in acid soil.
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 in swamps and wet areas in eastern and Midwestern United States.

Attracts birds & butterflies

More than 20 species of birds feed on the berries.  

Bark color and texture 

New twigs a reddish-purple developing a silvery color. Older bark is light gray often peeling to a diamond-like pattern. 

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;  with a paler lower surface. Fall color is yellow-green.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Inconspicuous; tiny white 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.
One male shrub will pollinate up to 5 female plants for fruit set.

Cultivars and their differences 

Afterglow winterberry holly  (Ilex verticillata 'Afterglow'): female; compact, rounded 5 to 8 feet high; fruit is orange to orange-red. Jim Dandy is male pollinator.

Berry Heavy® winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata 'Spravy'): female; 6 to 8 feet high; orange-red fruit. Jim Dandy is the male pollinator.

Berry Nice® winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata 'Spriber'): female; 6 to 8 feet high; bright red fruit. 'Southern Gentleman' or Jim Dandy is male pollinator.

Jim Dandy winterberry holly  (Ilex verticillata 'Jim Dandy'): male; 4 to 5 feet high; pollinator for 'Afterglow', Berry Heavy®, Berry Nice®, and 'Red Sprite'.

Red Sprite winterberry holly  (Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite'): female; compact, oval-rounded, 3 to 4 feet high; large red fruit. Jim Dandy is male pollinator.

Southern Gentleman winterberry holly  (Ilex verticillata 'Southern Gentleman'): male; 6 to 9 feet high; pollinator for Sparkleberry, 'Winter Red', and 'Winter Gold'.

Winter Red winterberry holly  (Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red'): female;  rounded, 6 to 8 feet high; abundant persistent red fruit. 'Southern Gentleman' is the male pollinator.