I confess I don’t actually have this plant growing in my garden yet, but I will be ordering it for spring delivery. Aside from decking halls, holly is a valuable plant for wildlife. Where I live, hollies associated with the traditional decor of Christmas are not quite hardy. They are also usually European in origin. But the Common Winterberry is native, and it is a holly though it will lose its leaves. In fact its leaves don’t resemble the usual toothy shape of holly leaves at all, but the berries, oh the berries, DO – they appear in bright sprays of red come winter.
|Photo by Stefan Bloodworth|
And the berries are what the birds relish. Robins tend to stay the winter here and would much appreciate dining on some winterberry. Other birds known to eat winterberry include: Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, Chickadee, Northern Flicker, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Song Sparrow, and Wood Thrush. There are over 40 species of bird known to eat its berries. These shrubs also provide cover and nesting sites.
Common Winterberry (also called Black Alder) is the host plant for Henry’s Elfin Butterfly.
My holiday decor has inspired me to write about holly. My decor tends to reflect the magic of the Northern woods. It has confirmed yet again my decision to include Winterberry in my new woodland edge border.
The spot I have in mind will receive unobstructed Southern exposure but will eventually have a canopy of mature Serviceberry and Dogwood trees. The soil tends to stay moist. I will most likely end up planting a cultivar such as ILEX verticillata Oosterwijk. The native Common Winterberry is often not sold sexed. Female Winterberry requires a male to produce berries. There is also a gold colored berry cultivar available, ILEX verticillata Winter Gold. Wouldn’t it be nice to have both colors? I am pretty certain there is not a nearby male for pollination. So if I buy three plant cultivars, I can be certain to have two females and one male for pollinating. If I had more space, I believe I would buy five plants of the Common Winterberry to ensure that I would receive both sexes.
|Photos above belong to Bluestone Perrenials but were slightly edited.|
So, there is yet another dilemma to going native … true native species, or cultivar? Just how native are you? I believe these cultivars will still offer wildlife value, so in my garden they go.