Named for its dense blooms of bright red berries in the late autumn and winter, this deciduous holly provides a seasonal color pop within its native range across the eastern US and southeastern Canada. After dropping its glossy-green leaves in the fall, these berries persist and become an important winter food source for many bird species, including the American robin. The enduring presence of berries following the drop of leaves is what gave this attractive shrub its apt common name.
Winterberry grows best within moisture-rich, acidic soils, making it common around wetlands, swamps, and vernal pools. Under these conditions, it may form into dense thickets up to 20 feet tall, which can provide excellent cover for nesting birds in the summer. Yet, it also tolerates the dry soils of sand dunes and grasslands, where it tends to grow as a distinctive shrub between 6 and 10 feet tall. It is also a pollinator plant for many birds, butterflies, and bees, including the honey bee, and a larval host for the native Henry’s elfin butterfly.