Common Winterberry (Verticillata)

The Common Winterberry (Verticillata) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Common Winterberry (Verticillata) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical Common Winterberry (Verticillata) will reach up to 10 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 6 feet.

The Common Winterberry (Verticillata) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -28°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

The attractive bright red fruit of winterberry is eaten by small mammals and more than 48 species of birds. The leaves and stems of winterberry are not a preferred source of browse, but moose, whitetail deer, cottontail rabbits, and snowshoe hare do utilize this plant. The persistent bright red fruit of this shrub make it very popular for landscaping. It is recommended for planting in shady moist areas, even though its growth and form are best under open grown conditions.

General Characteristics

Winterberry is an erect moderate sized shrub, growing to heights of 5 to 15 feet tall. The smooth bark of winterberry is gray to blackish, with knobby lenticels The dense branches of this shrub grow in a zigzag pattern with an upright spreading crown. The twigs are slender, with gray to gray-brown color and small buds.

The simple, smooth, obovate to oblong-ovate foliage is sharply double toothed, with medium fine texture. The deciduous leaves are arranged alternately along the stems. Each leaf is 1 1/2 to 4 inches long, with dark green summer color turning yellow in fall, then drop off by mid-October.

Small, inconspicuous, axillary, greenish to yellowish-white flowers bloom from April to July, after leaves have emerged. Like most others in the holly genus, winterberry is dioecious. Three years after planting, pistillate flowers begin to emerge in small clusters plants and staminate flowers develop on male plants with up to twelve flowers in a cluster; only now can plant gender be determined. Scarlet red to orange, globular fruit mature by late summer, often remaining on the plant into mid-winter. The berry-like fruit is about 1/4 inch in diameter, occurring singlely or in pairs, each containing 3 to 5 small nutlets. There are an average of 92,000 seeds per pound.

Required Growing Conditions

Winterberry is found throughout the eastern United States.

Cultivation and Care

Planting units of winterberry are propagated by seed, rooted stem divisions, and stem cuttings alike. The germination is usually hindered by hard seed coats and embryo dormancy. Utilizing proper after ripening and cold moist stratification procedures, germination can be stimulated. Seed should be covered with at least 1/8 to 1/2 inch of soil on nursery beds. Fall seedings should be mulched for winter protection.When seedlings are acquired, the sex of the plant is typically indeterminable, in contrast to those propagated vegetatively. In late fall root suckers can be directly dug and transplanted, while actively growing softwood cuttings are taken from late spring to mid-summer. The cuttings are first placed under glass or plastic, but once roots form and begin to grow, they can be transplanted into containers or nursery beds for further development.Utilize standard tree and shrub planting procedures to plant bare rooted transplants, containerized, or balled and burlapped stock.

General Upkeep and Control

It is important to plant both male and females within 40 feet of one another for adequate pollination. For wildlife plantings, it is advantageous to plant higher numbers of females. Weed control by mowing or chemical application is necessary to keep competing vegetation from over-topping winterberries.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) There are a number of ornamental varieties, selected for berry and leaf color, available from commercial nurseries. Local and regionally collected materials are available from native plant nurseries.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Multiple Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 10
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements High
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -28
Soil Depth for Roots 16
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4.5–7.5 pH
Precipitation Range 35–35 inches/yr
Planting Density 700–2700 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 16
Minimum Frost-Free Days 140 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA