December Plant of the Month: Ilex verticillata — Winterberry

You’d be hard pressed to take notice of lex verticillata –Winterberry – in the landscape most of the year.

Its dull green foliage, insignificant blossoms and stiff unimpressive form leave it languishing in visual obscurity until late autumn when, after leaf drop, its prolific berries sparkle in the gloomy December light.

In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a better plant for color in the winter landscape.

Large stands, impressively large and ‘leggy’ in stature, typically growing within wet margins in wild areas, become quite visible around Thanksgiving time.

Named cultivars such as ‘Sparkleberry,’ ‘Winter Red,’ and ‘Red Sprite,’ produce large quantities of bright red fruit on compact sized plants – 4-8’ tall and wide – more suitable for the home landscape, often well into late winter.

A male plant – such as ‘Jim Dandy,’ — is needed for pollination.


For best fruiting, plant in a sunny location, in fertile, moist soils high in organic content.

Best used in the landscape in large groupings, as a backdrop in the rear of the mixed border, or as an accent plant, combined against a background of conifers or ornamental grasses.

Give it a good haircut every few seasons to keep its size in bounds. Hardy zones 3-9.