Each week we’re showcasing a plant that’s native to the continental United States. This week’s plant is Ilex verticillata, our native holly.
The classic holly (Ilex species) is a showstopper with its glossy evergreen leaves and red berries. But our Michigan winters can sometimes take a toll on these evergreen hollies, and they often need winter protection. Scroll down for more photos and descriptions.
Winterberry fruits
Winterberry shrub
No need for weather interventions with our native holly, Ilex verticillata (often called Michigan holly or winterberry). This deciduous shrub can withstand cold winters and is hardy to zone 3. In winter, one of I. verticillata’s best features is the mass of red berries that provide a warm punch of red when color is otherwise in short supply.
Michigan holly is native to the eastern United States. It’s usually found growing in wet or low-lying areas. That makes it great for a rain garden. But it will also thrive in average soil if given some water during drought conditions. In wetter conditions it can form suckers but in average or drier soil the plant tends to stay more compact.
The red fruits often last well into the winter, hence one of the common names for this plant: winterberry. The fruits provide sustenance for many different songbirds and small animals.
Like all hollies, I. verticillata is dioecious, meaning it has male and female plants. You’ll need a male plant not more than about 40 feet away to make sure the red berries form on the female. One male plant is good for pollinating three to four female plants. When buying your holly plants, check with your nursery source about the appropriate male plant for pollination of female plants.
There are numerous cultivars of Ilex verticillata, some with red as well as orange berries. One well-known cultivar is ‘Winter Red.’ Think about placement in the garden of your Michigan holly: you’ll want to see those red berries easily from inside the house.
Winterberry fruits and leaves
Winterberry 'Southern Gentleman'
Winterberry branches
Female winterberry flowers

Female winterberry flowers.

Male winterberry flowers

Male winterberry flowers.

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U. Michigan Herbarium
Fairfax County Virginia Master Gardeners
US Dept. Agriculture
U. Vermont Extension
New York Botanical Garden
Michigan State U. Extension