Northwest Ohio’s Holly

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By Karen Menard

When the word “holly” is mentioned this time of year, the image of an evergreen with its bright red berries and shiny, barbed leaves usually comes to mind – something traditionally seen when decking the halls.

The American Holly (Ilex opaca) is actually a tree and is one of the species that typically is synonymous with holiday décor.  This species, however, cannot be found as a native plant in northwest Ohio, except in a few situations where it has escaped cultivation. Its natural range includes counties bordering the Ohio River, throughout the southeastern U.S. and along the east coast.

Northwest Ohio actually has its own native holly called “Winterberry” (Ilex verticillata). It isn’t an evergreen and doesn’t have barbed leaves, but it does sport the beautiful bright red berries every fall and winter.

The glowing red winterberry thickets in shaded wetlands are a beautiful sight during the fall and winter, if the local wildlife hasn’t found them first. This plant offers berries that are a winter food source for many species of birds and other small mammals, especially thrushes, waxwings, woodpeckers and white-footed mice. Its flowers are favored by bees for pollen and nectar during the warm weather season.

On your next winter hike in the Oak Openings region, see if you can spot any of the fleshy, vivid red berries still blazing against the landscape.

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Did you know?

Winterberry flowers are cross pollinated by small Andrenid bees and other small flies.