January 2022: Winterberry Wonders

Happy New Year! I hope your holiday season was warm and safe, and you’ve been enjoying the snowy weather.

While driving through the January landscape, you may notice color along the woodlands—joyous, red berry bunches on leafless shrubs. This is the winterberry! (Ilex verticillata). Winterberry is a dioecious (meaning it requires a ‘male’ and a ‘female’ plant to set berries) shrub in the holly family, where we find other beauties such as inkberry and American holly

Winterberry shrubs

Thirty-four species of moths and butterflies rely on the winterberry as a host plant, including the Henry’s elfin butterfly. This butterfly also uses redbud (Cercis canadensis) as a host plant, so if you’re looking for a splendid companion for winterberry, the redbud tree is an excellent choice. Winterberries provide winter interest while the redbud will sprout pink flowers in early spring. 

Henry’s elfin butterfly

Winterberries are also a draw for birds—though the birds will wait until several deep frosts sweeten the berries. This means you can have yourself a beautiful winter shrub through February before the birds descend. And if they descend, keep an eye out: some birds may seem a little “tipsy” from consuming fermented berries. It happens!

Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) eating berries

The berries are wonderful packets of energy at this time of year. Birds “shiver” through the night and on the coldest days, and the act of shivering helps them to keep warm. Shivering requires calories, and berries on a chilly February day are the perfect provider. 

Sweat bee (Agapostemon sp.) on Ilex flower

And as if we needed more reasons to enjoy what winterberry offers, it’s also a favorite among native bees! 

Wondering where you can buy native plants? Here are two Connecticut nurseries:

Earth Tones Native Nursery, Woodbury, CT https://www.earthtonesnatives.com/

Native: A Native Plant Nursery, Fairfield, CT https://www.anativeplantnursery.com/

Live in New York? Check out these nurseries:

Catskill Native Nursery, Kerhonksen, NY https://www.catskillnativenursery.com/

Long Island Natives, Eastport, NY https://longislandnatives.com/

Want to be part of the Pollinator Pathway? Check out this website: https://www.pollinator-pathway.org/