Canadian Wildlife - - FEATURES -

Tips for bet­ter gar­den­ing, na­tive flora in pro­file, ad­vice for bird­watch­ers and tales of travel. 35 Field Guide 36 Your Gar­den 38 Bird­ing 40 Travel

Found through­out At­lantic Canada as well as Que­bec and On­tario, win­ter­berry is pop­u­lar with gar­den­ers for its sim­i­lar­i­ties to English holly, namely its bright red berries and glossy green leaves. One dif­fer­ence is its lack of the prick­les on the leaves of its cousin from across the pond.


Ilex ver­ti­cil­lata typ­i­cally grows to three or four me­tres tall, al­though there are va­ri­eties that reach vary­ing heights and widths. It can sucker and spread to form thick­ets, but if pruned, it could grow as a sin­gle tree or shrub.

Ilex’s leaves are widest above the mid­dle with a pointed tip with fine teeth along the edges. Flow­ers are small and white and ei­ther male or fe­male, with only one flower type per plant. The flow­ers typ­i­cally bloom in the spring, but south­ern vari­a­tions of this plant are said to bloom a bit later.

Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples tra­di­tion­ally used parts of Ilex ver­ti­cil­lata as treat­ment for fever and skin prob­lems. Today, florists of­ten fea­ture it in hol­i­day ar­range­ments, while those who en­joy win­ter crafts use it for wreaths and win­dow boxes.

Many wild an­i­mals de­pend on win­ter­berry’s fruit to sur­vive Cana­dian win­ters, in­clud­ing early spring ar­rivals that have to wait a few more weeks be­fore warm weather and other food presents it­self. Birds such as robins, car­di­nals, grouse, blue­birds, thrushes, waxwings, white-throated spar­rows, north­ern flick­ers and grey cat­birds feast on win­ter­ber­ries. Some­times even a black bear or white-tailed deer will nib­ble on them.

Ben­e­fi­cial in­sects like na­tive bees and flies also go to win­ter­berry flow­ers for food and pol­li­nate the plants in re­turn.

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