Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winterberry Holly is on my Spring Planting Wishlist

Two weeks ago I posted a small blurb about the beautiful red berry bush just outside the viewing room at the Caesar Creek Lake Visitor’s Center. Last week when I went back, I asked the ranger about it. I didn’t even have to finish my sentence before she blurted out, “Isn’t it beautiful? It’s a Winterberry Holly. We get tons of questions about it.”


That evening I did a little research and found it’s also called “black alder” and “fever bush.” The National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Wildflowers, Eastern Region, says,
This shrub is extremely showy in late fall and early winter, when covered with bright fruits. Birds are readily attracted to them.
Well, that sounds good to me! I garden for the birds all the time and am always looking for new plants. My native red mulberry trees are amazing, especially when dripping with Cedar Waxwings. In the summer, I love it when I’m outside and first hear their twittery call. All I have to do is look up into the mulberry and there they are. But the nice thing about winterberry hollies is even if the birds decide to pass them by, they are stunning in the drab, winter landscape. Some references indicate winterberries are often used by birds only as emergency food sources, and that is good too.

Winterberry holly is native to eastern Canada and the eastern half of the Unite States. It likes a wet foot, so if you have swampy area in your yard (which I do), you’re set. Winterberry holly is dioecious, so you need to buy at least one male plant and one female plant to obtain the beautiful red berries. In the photo, you’ll notice it sheds its leaves in the fall. Being deciduous is part of its charm, because the berries are all the more noticeable.

An interesting tidbit, the common name "fever bush," comes from the fact that native Americans (of eastern North America) used winterberry to reduce fever.

6 comments:

Wren said...

It's on my list, too. Very pretty!

Kelly said...

Thanks, Wren! I can't figure out how this beautiful plant has escaped me all these years. I hope I can find one and it grows!

Heather said...

Thanks for mentioning this plant Kelly. I would be interested in it, but I'm not sure it would do well in our heavily wooded/shady plot. I'm hoping to plant some viburnum this spring, which is another berry plant that should bring the birds in. I would LOVE to have some waxwings visit our yard!

Kelly said...

Hi Heather, most of the references said it prefers sunlight. It will grow in shade, but not as full. I have viburnums and the birds love them. The dark blue berries are pretty too, but they don't seem to last too long!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Kelly,
I planted several of the winterberry holly plants in my backyard (in heavy clay soil and not a moist area at all). I have never seen any of the birds eating the berries, but I love seeing the bright red splash of color in the landscape in late fall and early winter after everything else has turned brown.

Kelly said...

Hi Ruthie...that's nice to know. I'm like you though, if the birds pass it by, that's okay. Just seeing that bright red will make me happy!