Common Winterberry Holly – Ilex vertillata

Winterberry Holly
Winterberry Holly

This is another perennial shrub of eastern North America, which particularly likes wetland habitats (although it can be found in drier conditions). Even though this is a holly the leaves are not pointed, and stiff, and it is not an evergreen, losing all its leaves every fall! When the leaves fall in the autumn, the berries remain, giving it its common name of Winterberry since the berries become the focal point of the bush through winter.

The nick of Fever bush was applied (through translation) from the Native American use of the berries. It has been used in the treatment of dyspepsia, jaundice, diarrhea, gangrene, and dropsy. For the gangrene, and other skin afflictions (such as ulcers, eczema, etc) it is used externally. The berries, when combined with cedar-apples make an effective worm medicine for children.

When the leaves are dried and crumbled they make a tea substitute that is caffeine free. But wild birds such as Cedar waxwings, bluebirds, and robins relish the berries, especially as winter descends and food is scarcer. As the leaves fall and the berries are dominant in the landscape it is easier for the bird’s survival!

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