Mention holly and most people think Christmas and holiday decorating. The image that comes to mind is the bright red berries and the glossy, pokey, evergreen foliage. But did you know there is a deciduous holly that doesn't have those glossy leaves and loses them every autumn?
The holly we are most familiar is Ilex opaca, the American Holly.
The deciduous holly is Ilex verticillata.
Both species are natives to eastern and south-central United States and very beneficial to our wildlife.
The Winterberry Holly is generally considered a wetland holly but it does grow just fine in drier soils. The difference is that in wetter soils it suckers to form a spreading thicket and in the typical garden soils it tends to be more of a clump.
A tough, easy to grow shrub with few serious disease or insect threats, this shrub is a winner. The size ranges from a height of three to fifteen feet with a variable width as well.
There are male plants and female plants. Originally I didn't know this and only planted the one you see in the photos, so obviously there must be males around or this one wouldn't produce berries.
In the spring, Winterberry Holly produces tiny white flowers, not much to write home about. But by late summer, the slender branches are covered right to their tips with numerous berries. This photo was taken in November and you can see that the leaves are still hanging in there.
Then when the leaves do finally drop, the shrub is in it's glory all winter long.
The berries provide beautiful winter color to the landscape for months until they are finally stripped by the birds and small wildlife.
Keep in mind that though the berries provide an important food source for wildlife, they should not be eaten by humans as they are considered mildly poisonous.
Therefore, if you do cut branches of the Winterberry Holly and bring them indoors for holiday decorating, keep them out of reach of small children and pets. If the berries or leaves are ingested, they can cause vomiting and diarrhea.