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.