Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

For the past couple years, as part of our seasonal decorations, I've gone out to harvest some wild Winterberry for the planter boxes here at Bonin Architects.  I was able to trim these boughs off some plants I spotted in the swampy low lands along Lyon Brook at the northwest end of Kezar Lake.  The profuse, bright red berries make them easy to spot in a winter landscape devoid of color.  Spotting them is the easy part, if you know where to look.  Getting to them without getting wet feet is the hard part since they typically are growing is shallow water and wetland areas which tend to be not quite frozen yet.  As with anything that you harvest from nature, always keep the environment in mind.  Use proper pruning techniques, tread lightly, and only take what you need.  When harvested with care, mature plants should provide for years and years.  Happy Holidays!

Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, is a deciduous shrub native to the northeast and is a member of the Holly family.  Evergreen Hollies, such as Ilex meserve, are also popular to use for holiday decorations.  (Ya know?......Deck the Halls)

Winterberry is a great native plant for the landscape, especially for use in artificial wetlands or rain gardens, though they grow just fine in average soil as well.  In New Hampshire, in Winter, there are few plants natives that offer the splash of color of Winterberry provides.  In the nurseries, you'll tend to find many cultivars developed with superior form, size, color, and berry abundance to the straight native species such as 'Red Sprite', 'Sparkleberry',  or 'Winter Red'.
I think I enjoyed going out to cut the boughs even more than I enjoy looking at them.  Harvesting from nature can be an incredibly gratifying experience, especially this time of year.  I'd take a crisp morning walk in woods over blinking lights, department stores, and inflatable snow globes any day of the week.