Happy Winter Solstice everyone! Winter “officially” starts on December 21 this year, but here in the Catskills winter set in much earlier than that. If you don’t love winter, maybe you’ll take comfort in the fact that the days will now start to get longer, as the Earth moves closer to the sun. By the way, have you noticed those bushes with the bright red berries along roadsides and streams lately? The ones that really stand out against a fresh snow because they have no leaves? These are Ilex verticillata, otherwise known as “black alder” or Winterberry holly, which is native to eastern Canada and the eastern half of the U.S. In nature, Winterberry calls wetland areas home, which means if you have areas of your landscape plagued by wetness, you can take advantage of this shrub’s native predisposition and plant it in such areas — where little else would survive. Winterberry holly also prefers acidic soils. It can be grown in partial shade or full sun and when happy with its site, can reach 15 feet high. Although the plant is common in the wild, a good reason to purchase it from a nursery is the fact that Winterberry holly is dioecious. That means in order to get berries, you need to purchase a male plant, and surround it with female plants that will bear those beautiful red berries. (Nurseries label which is which) Unlike the glossy everygreen holly shrubs with which we are most familiar, Winterberry holly is deciduous. Since they lose their leaves, all the attention is drawn to the plant’s fruit, with no foliage to obstruct the viewer’s vision. Winterberry holly will attract songbirds and gamebirds like turkey and quail to your property, since the fruits serve as an emergency food source for them. If your passion is arts and crafts, cut Winterberry holly stems in early winter, before the birds strip the branches bare. Winterberry branches add long lasting, bright red contrast to wreaths and flower arrangements, or are stunning all by themselves as a stand alone decoration. What are your favorite decoration ideas for Winterberry? What feathered or furry friends have you seen visiting them?