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Common winterberry

Fruit and leaves of common winterberry.

The bright red persistent fruits of common winterberry glow in the winter landscape. This deciduous species of holly, native to the eastern 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 species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research."   

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:

  • Foundation,
  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Specimen

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 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil,
  • Wet soil


  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Road salt

Seasons of Interest:

  • early winter,
  • midwinter,
  • early fall,
  • mid fall,
  • late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Round,
  • Thicket-forming,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Slow,
  • Moderate

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.
Tolerant of aerial salt spray.

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 


This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

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.

Location of Ilex verticillata (Common winterberry) at the Arboretum