Many people are unaware that most of our native hollies are actually deciduous, losing their leaves in the winter, because they are only aware of the evergreen American Holly. The most well-known of these other hollies is Winterberry, Ilex verticillata. Like most hollies, they are dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants), so only female trees produce fruit and only if there is a male tree nearby to provide pollination. This northernmost of all our hollies holds onto its berries well into winter, thus its most common name. The berries are not a favored food of any animal I am familiar with, which explains why the berries last so long. Rather, they serve as starvation food and may actually be more palatable to birds as the cold changes the chemical properties of the fruit. This makes them a popular garden planting since the long-lasting, bright berries add color to the often bleak and cold landscape. They are easy to grow as well and are a small enough shrub (most only reach 15’ or so) to fit into many plantings. It seems that hybrids and cultivated varieties (cultivars) are even less desirable as animal food and the berries may not even be touched on these plantings except in desperation.
|If visited by a pollinator carrying male pollen, these female flowers will become berries.
|A Robin eats a fruit late in the winter.