Monday, October 27, 2008


It’s that time of year again when people stop along the East Waldo Road and pick branchlets from common winterberry, Ilex verticillata. This shrub loses its leaves but the bright-red berries hold fast and persist until birds turn to them as starvation food in mid-winter.

Winterberry is a form of holly, although it is rarely recognized as such. Anyway, it’s commonly used in holiday decorating, mostly in sprays and on wreaths. The road where I live, East Waldo Road, is lined with winterberry and now that the leaves have fallen, the brightly-colored berries contrast sharply with a brown and gray background.

Once, I wondered if regular picking of the branch tips would harm the shrub. Excess pruning can and does set back domestic fruit trees and shrubs. But over the years that I have observed several winterberry bushes along the road, it looks as if this seasonal “tipping” has little or no effect upon the plant.

Even if picking did harm the plants, casual pickers are by and large lazy and unwilling to venture far from the road in order to harvest winterberry branchlets. So shrubs that are more than 20 feet or so from the travel lane remain untouched, to provide life and excitement during those colorless, dismal days of November.

By spring, all the berries will have vanished and the shrubs will again fade into relative obscurity. That is, until next fall when the leaves drop and the red berries once again assume center stage in nature’s road show.

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