Monday, December 5, 2011

Brilliant Colors on Dark Winter Days

This is a stunning plant in the dark days of winter: it glows with brilliant red berries on an artistic sculpture of branches that are bare of all leafs in December. It seems to me they are especially glorious in the Maritimes and grow abundant on the South Shore.

The perfect addition to a Christmas Wreath, in a doorway planter or as an indoor decoration, mixed with dark-green fir or pine twigs to give it a strong contrast.

The Nova Scotia Wild Flora Society explains:
Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, is a deciduous holly, common throughout Nova Scotia in damp woods and thickets on wet ground with a preference for acid soils. It has distinctive alternately borne leaves which are shiny on top and dark green. Small, creamy white, flowers are produced in mid-summer. The species is dioecious, which means uni-sexual, male and female flowers occur on separate plants.

First Nation people used it as medical plant. The bark is antiseptic and astringent and used internally in the treatment of diarrhoea and externally in the treatment of sores and chronic skin disease.

Bright red berries develop on female plants and are retained after the leaves drop if not eaten by wildlife. Winterberry is native to eastern North America. Horticultural varieties are popular in the U.S.

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. It can take 18 months to germinate. Cuttings of almost ripe wood with a heel, plant it in August in a shaded position in a cold frame. Leave for 18 months before potting up.

Powell Gardens in Kansas City describe it on their blog
in detail:

What a beautiful gift of Mother Nature to lighten up our dreary Winter days with those cheery red berries.