Thursday, July 10, 2014

Winterberry: a Native Shrub with Pollinator Appeal

Guest Blog by Rachel Shaw
Last month I wrote about Penstemon, calling it a bee magnet. A week or so after I had written that, my Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) came into bloom and I was reminded that for attracting bees, nothing in my yard beats this native holly. The flowers on this small tree are tiny, but when they are in bloom the plant literally hums with pollinator activity. My bee identification skills are not well honed, but I can say that the number and types of bees attracted to Winterberry is amazing. There are honeybees, bumblebees, the occasional wasp, and a variety of smaller native bees. 

Winterberry is also a very pleasing plant in winter, with its prolific crop of bright red berries. These remain on the tree for part of the winter season. The berries are a sort of back-up food source for birds; apparently their relatively low fat content means that other food sources will be eaten first, but the winterberries become more important later in the season when other berries have been eaten. Fruit production requires a male and a female plant.

One of my plants was unfortunately put in as a foundation planting, and I have hacked at it ruthlessly when branches obscured the house number or got in the way of the path; it is a little misshapen at the moment, but the bees don’t care. The other, in a better spot, has never needed any pruning, and has a very pleasing form.

The Winterberry blooms for a relatively short time in June. As for what’s currently blooming in my yard: Beebalm (Monarda didyma), Butterfly Weed (Aesclepias tuberosa), Swamp Milkweed (Aesclepias incarnata), Blazing Star (Liastris spicata), and Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). I’ve even seen a couple of blossoms of Wild Petunia, Ruellia humilis, one of my more recent acquisitions.

What native plants are blooming in your yard or nearby?

About the Author

Rachel Shaw focuses on vegetable gardening and growing native plants in her small yard in Rockville, Maryland. She blogs at

Check back on the 10th of each month for the next installment in this series



  1. Also blooming are Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum), Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), some late Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica), and a bit of coreopsis.

  2. Nice that you have Indian Pink blooming; mine didn't last long and has been gone for a while. My Culver's Root is starting. I wish I had a place for Trumpet Honeysuckle...

  3. Your arborist can help you maintain attractive shrubbery with a properly timed shrub care plan that addresses your aesthetic, health, winter protection needs.

  4. Rachel's Winterberry is a buzzing paradise for pollinators. Those vibrant red berries offer a winter lifeline for birds. A true ecological gem!


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