common winterberry

(Ilex verticillata)

Conservation Status
common winterberry
Photo by Kirk Nelson
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status

FACW - Facultative wetland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACW - Facultative wetland


Common winterberry is a 5 to 16½ tall, slow growing, deciduous shrub that rises on multiple stems from a woody root system. It is native to North America east of the Great Plains. It is also cultivated as an ornamental. It is fairly common in the woodlands of eastern Minnesota. In wet areas it often forms dense colonies by sending up new stems (suckers) from root nodes.

Stems are erect and up to 2 in diameter at the base. The bark is thin, smooth, grayish-brown, and often mottled.

First-year branches are slender, green, round, and usually hairless. Second-year branches are slender, smooth, and gray or grayish-brown. Mature branches and stems are grayish-brown and have numerous, scattered, pale, raised, horizontal, wart-like pores (lenticels). The pith is solid, not spongy, but it may be small and not easily seen. The buds are small and nearly globe-shaped. They have two or more bud scales. The bud scales are not tipped with a spine-like extension of the midrib (mucro). The leaf scars are small and are not raised or are only slightly raised. They have a single bundle scar.

The leaves are alternate, relatively thin, 2 to 4 long, ¾ to 1¾ wide, and narrowly or broadly elliptic or egg-shaped. They are on ¼ to ½ long leaf stalks (petioles). The petioles are covered with short hairs. At the base of each petiole there is a pair of tiny, black, thorn-like appendages (stipules). The stipules may fall off early but are often persistent. The leaf blades are tapered at the base and short-tapered to a sharp point at the tip but do not have a spine-like extension of the midrib (mucro). The upper surface is green, dull, and hairless. The lower surface is paler and sparsely to moderately hairy at least along the veins. The veins are conspicuously depressed on the upper surface, conspicuously raised on the lower surface. The margins are finely toothed with sharp, spreading to forward pointing teeth.

The inflorescence is small clusters of flowers rising from the leaf axils of first-year branches. Male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers are produced on separate plants. Occasionally, bisexual (perfect) flowers, with both male and female parts, are produced on an otherwise male or female plant.

Staminate flowers are in clusters of 3 to 10 flowers on short, 1 32 to 1 16 long stalks (pedicels). There are 4 to 6 sepals and an equal number of petals and stamens. The sepals are tiny, about 1 32 (0.7 to 1.4 mm) long, and have a fringe of hairs on the margin (ciliate). The petals are white to greenish-white, spreading with the tips sometimes bent backward, and 1 16 to (1.5 to 2.5 mm) long. The stamens have white filaments and yellow anthers. Pistillate flowers are solitary or in clusters of 2 or 3 flowers. They are similar to male flowers but have 5 to 8 sepals and petals, and an equal number of sterile, modified stamens (staminodes). There is no style.

The fruit is a bright red, globe-shaped, 3 16 to 5 16 (5 to 8 mm) in diameter, fleshy, berry-like drupe. The fruits mature in early September to early October and remain on the branch through winter and into the following spring. They are poisonous to humans but not to birds.




5 to 16½


Flower Color


White to greenish-white


Similar Species




Wet to moist. Forested wetlands, margins of ponds and marshes, lakeshores. Partial sun.




Mid-June to early July


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 24, 28, 29, 30.








Fairly common

  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Asteranae  


Aquifoliales (hollies and allies)  


Aquifoliaceae (holly)  


Ilex (hollies)  

Subordinate Taxa






Ilex bronxensis

Ilex fastigiata

Ilex verticillata var. cyclophylla

Ilex verticillata var. fastigiata

Ilex verticillata var. padifolia

Ilex verticillata var. tenuifolia


Common Names


black alder


common winterberry

Virginia winterberry


winterberry holly










Bundle scar

Tiny raised area within a leaf scar, formed from the broken end of a vascular bundle.



The group of outer floral leaves (sepals) below the petals, occasionally forming a tube.



A fleshy fruit with usually a single hard, stone-like core, like a cherry or peach; a stone fruit.



On plants: The thread-like stalk of a stamen which supports the anther. On Lepidoptera: One of a pair of long, thin, fleshy extensions extending from the thorax, and sometimes also from the abdomen, of a caterpillar.



A corky, round or stripe-like, usually raised, pore-like opening in bark that allows for gas exchange.



On plants: the stalk of a single flower in a cluster of flowers. On insects: the second segment of the antennae. On Hymenoptera and Araneae: the narrow stalk connecting the thorax to the abdomen: the preferred term is petiole.



Referring to a flower that has both male and female reproductive organs.



On plants: The stalk of a leaf blade or a compound leaf that attaches it to the stem. On ants and wasps: The constricted first one or two segments of the rear part of the body.



Referring to a flower that has a female reproductive organ (pistil) but does not have male reproductive organs (stamens).



Referring to a flower that has a male reproductive organs (stamens) but does not have a female reproductive organ (pistil).



A modified stamen that produces no pollen. It often has no anther. Plural: staminodia.



A small, leaf-like, scale-like, glandular, or rarely spiny appendage found at the base of a leaf stalk, usually occurring in pairs and usually dropping soon.

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These are easily spotted at the end of Sept as other leaves start to drop off.

    common winterberry      

Kirk Nelson

    common winterberry   common winterberry  
    common winterberry      


    common winterberry      


    common winterberry      



  American Winterberry
Andree Reno Sanborn
  American Winterberry  

Ilex verticillata




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Other Videos
  Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)
Northeastern native plant digest

Dec 12, 2018

Winterberry - A wonderful native shrub that's easy to grow and the birds will love.

  Ilex Verticillata
Maria Galeano

Nov 28, 2018




Visitor Sightings

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Location: Cass County

common winterberry  
  Kirk Nelson

Location: Lebanon Hills Regional Park

common winterberry  




Created: 9/25/2019

Last Updated:

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