This native to Eastern North America and member of the holly family (Aquifoliaceae) is especially beautiful in the fall. Ilex verticillata‘s bright red fruits contrast brilliantly with the shades of green that usually surround this plant when it first fruits. Winterberry even holds onto its drupes (the fruits are not actually berries, but drupes–perhaps it should be called Winterdrupe) once most leaves have dropped, leaving some lasting color on the northern landscape during the more gray-scale months.
Leaves of many members of the holly family have traditionally been used for tea. Yerba mate, Ilex paraguariensis, is a close relative of winterberry and one of a few members of the holly family that contains caffeine. While winterberry leaves contain no caffeine, the dried leaves can still be made into a tea that many people enjoy. In a time when we rely on extensive transportation and far-away processes for the vast majority of our hot beverage desires, why not try our backyard option?
Note: Many members of the Ilex genus have toxic fruits; information about the specific toxicity of winterberry drupes is vague, but the thought is: fruits are probably poisonous to humans; don’t eat them.