Maryland’s Winterberry Beauty
Winterberry shows at its best this season, inviting you to cut it for Christmas decorating. The native deciduous forms of holly grow as shrubs six to eight feet tall. At this time of year, the ends of the branches are filled with clusters of bright red berries.
Maryland has two native species, Ilex verticillata and Ilex serrata. It is not uncommon to see them planted along highways. They are increasingly being used because they can tolerate growing in boggy wet soil as well as on well-drained soil while providing interest this time of year.
There is also a botanical form of winterberry called Maryland Beauty. A local grower of greenhouse crops found this particular winterberry growing in a bog on his property in Mitchellville. It is an Ilex serrata species with larger and darker red berries than any of the species growing in the wild.
After observing it for a couple of years following its discovery, I encouraged the nurseryman to register it with the American Holly Society and make it available. Cuttings from the plant were taken in June and again in July and rooted with ease. From this one plant growing in the bog, Maryland Beauty is recognized and widely grown by nurseries.
If you try one, you’ll also need a male deciduous holly plant that flowers at the same time. Maryland Beauty is a female plant and must be pollinated every summer by pollen from a nearby male.
The flowers of deciduous hollies are pollinated by flies and not by bees. So when the plant is in flower, don’t be surprised if you see green-headed flies crawling in it.
The deep-red heavy clusters of Maryland Beauty berries make them ideal for indoor decorating. All of the berries appear on the stems of the current season’s growth, which enhances their attractiveness. Use extreme care when cutting the stems to minimize shedding berries from the stem. Once they are cut, do not put them in water. Since the berries shrink very slowly, they will remain attractive for a month or more indoors. Thus, they’re ideal for making dry arrangements or for decorating the Christmas tree.
Contrary to popular belief, holly berries are not poisonous, though neither do they taste good. If eaten in any quantity, they will cause digestion problems.
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