Ilex verticillata 'Nana' RED SPRITE
Common Name: winterberry
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 2.50 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 2.50 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to July
Bloom Description: Dull white
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Hedge, Rain Garden
Flower: Insignificant
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Erosion, Clay Soil, Wet Soil, Air Pollution

Culture

Easily grown in average, acidic, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Adaptable to both light and heavy soils, but prefers moist, acidic, organic loams. Good tolerance for poorly drained soils including wet boggy or swampy conditions (this species is native to swampy areas of Eastern North America).. Winterberries are dioecious (separate male and female plants). Only fertilized female flowers will produce the attractive red berries that are the signature of the species. Generally one male winterberry will be sufficient for pollinating 6-10 female plants. Flowers appear on new growth. Prune to shape in early spring just before new growth appears.

'Nana' is a female plant and needs a male pollinator to produce the attractive red berries which are the signature of the winterberries. Generally one male winterberry (such as I. verticillata 'Jim Dandy') will be sufficient for pollinating 9-10 female 'Nana' plants. Prune to shape in early spring just before new growth begins.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Ilex verticillata, commonly called winterberry, is a deciduous holly that is native to eastern North America where it typically occurs in swamps, damp thickets, low woods and along ponds and streams. The form of this plant found in Missouri is Ilex verticillata var. padifolia, which occurs in “shut-ins”, granite rocky stream beds and sandstone bluffs in only 4 counties in the southeastern part of the state (Steyermark). This is a slow-growing, deciduous shrub with an upright-rounded habit that typically grows 3-12’ tall. In the wild, it often suckers to form large thickets or colonies. Elliptic to obovate, toothed, dark green leaves (2-3” long). Fall color is usually negligible, but in some years leaves may turn attractive shades of maroon. Relatively inconspicuous greenish-white flowers appear in the leaf axils in late spring. Flowers, if properly pollinated, give way to a crop of bright red berries (1/4” diameter) in late summer to fall. Berries are quite showy and will persist throughout the winter (hence the common name) and often into early spring. Berries provide considerable impact and interest to the winter landscape.

Genus comes from the Latin name for holm oak, Quercus ilex, in reference to foliage similarities (holm oak and most Ilex shrubs have evergreen leaves).

Specific epithet from Latin means whorled in reference to the arrangement of sessile fruits in pseudo-whorls around the stems.

'Nana' is a deciduous winterberry cultivar that is a large-berried, slow-growing, dwarf shrub with an upright, rounded habit. Typically grows only 2-3' tall. Glossy medium green leaves drop in early autumn with no appreciable fall color. The whitish flowers are relatively inconspicuous. This female winterberry, as the common name suggests, produces profuse red berries which are extremely attractive in fall and winter, often persisting to early spring unless consumed by local bird populations. Often sold as Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite'.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Occasional disease problems include leaf spots and powdery mildew. Plants do poorly in neutral to alkaline soils where they are susceptible to chlorosis (yellowing of leaves) and often die.

Garden Uses

Year round interest, highlighted by the showy display of red berries in winter. Mass or group in shrub borders, foundations, native plant areas or bird gardens. Hedge. Excellent shrub for moist soils in low spots or along streams and ponds. Although an attractive shrub, the species is infrequently sold in commerce because of the many excellent cultivars which generally produce showier flowers and larger, more abundant fruit.

'Nana' has excellent year round interest, highlighted by the showy display of red berries in winter. Males and females together make excellent masses or groupings for shrub borders, foundations or accents. Also an effective low hedge. Excellent shrub for wet soils such as low spots or along streams or ponds.