Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Berries create winter wonderland

Stopping to smell the flowers



Arlene Marturano

Arlene Marturano is a master gardener, writer, and educator. As an advocate of gardening as a tool for learning, she helped develop the Carolina Children’s Garden at the Sandhill Research and Education Center. She is an education consultant with T.E.A.C.H.

By Arlene Marturano

In winter a corps of plants decorates the landscape naturally with their jewel like berries. Some plants are bold and ostentatious in displaying their fruit while others are modest and quiet. All add color and interest to the winter wonderland.

Evergreen hollies are, perhaps, the most commonly recognized berry producer. The pyramid shaped American holly tree, Ilex opaca, presents a dramatic show of red berries against its spiny toothed dark green foliage. The mounded Burford holly shrub, Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’, widely used in hedges and foundation plantings can look as if it has more fruit than foliage.

The American holly is a superlative plant for festive berries.

The American holly is a superlative plant for festive berries.

What deciduous hollies lack in leaves in winter, they more than compensate with berries. The common winterberry, Ilex verticillata ‘Winter red’, the Carolina winterberry, Ilex ‘Carolina cardinal’, and possum haw, Ilex deciduas ‘Warren red’ are replete with cold- hardy scarlet berries. For a candy cane effect, white winterberry, Ilex serrata leucocarpa, can be alternated with the reds.

The petite native sparkleberry tree, Vaccinium arboreum, bears black berries and is found in abundance at Sesquicentennial State Park.

Dogwoods like Cornus kousa overwinter with red berries until the birds deplete them.

Nandinas offer year-round interest in the garden. Clusters of red berries hang from the branch tips of Nandina domestica. The variety ‘Alba’ features white berries.

The winterberry at Riverbanks Botanical Garden is strung with its own berry lights.

The winterberry at Riverbanks Botanical Garden is strung with its own berry lights.

Mockingbirds, ruby-crowned kinglets, myrtle warblers, and cedar waxwings take advantage of the grayish resin coated berries covering wax myrtles, Myrica cerifera. The resin from the berry of this native shrub is used to scent bayberry candles.

By February the red berrylike fruit on the photinia, Photinia fraseri, will be devoured by flocks of cedar waxwings. The same species of bird bombards cleyera, Cleyera japonica, for the black globose berries.

Barberries are characterized by thorny stems, attractive leaves and beautiful berries. They are to the city what barbed wire is to the country.

The snowberry, a favorite native heirloom garden shrub, appeared in garden literature in the 1700s. Symphoricarpos albus, a deciduous shrub has waxy berries as white as snow. The red snowberry, a southeastern native also known as coralberry or Indian berry, produces clusters of crimson berries.



A number of groundcovers place berries underfoot. The partridge berry, Michella repens, is a native evergreen with prostrate creeping stems often found in deciduous woodlands. The bright red berries are sought by quail, deer, fox and raccoon.

Native plant advocates recommend replacing invasives like liriope and English ivy with the glossy green foliage of partridge berry. Liriope muscari or lilyturf is considered invasive because it adapts to a wide variety of conditions. Liriope is often used under trees or in shade where little else will cover bare soil so rapidly. Shiny black berries appear in winter. Mondo grass, Ophiopogon japonicus, another rapid grower and survivor of drought, cold, shade and sun produces blue berrylike fruit hidden among its grassy foliage.

Overhead in the treetops hangs one white berry laden plant especially popular during the Christmas holidays but present year round, mistletoe, Phoradendron.The pearly white fruit contains a sticky seed which is deposited on host trees by a bird’s beak, feather, or dropping or a mammal’s fur. Many birds enjoy the berries including robins, bluebirds, mourning doves, and evening grosbeaks.

Chickadees, house wrens, chipping sparrows and pine siskins are known to nest in mistletoe. The great purple hairstreak butterfly relies solely on mistletoe as its host plant. The female lays its eggs on the leaves and the caterpillar feeds on the mistletoe leaves.

Decorative berries everywhere create a winter wonderland.

Berry Plant Footnotes

+ Parents and teachers should caution children not to sample berries growing in the garden or woods. Many are poisonous.

+ Many of the plants described are dioecious or having male and female reproductive parts on separate plants. When purchasing plants, ask for verification. One male holly in the garden, for example, can pollinate a harem of hollies.

+ Proper pruning of trees and shrubs can increase flowers and fruit.

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