The sparkling red berries of mountain winterberry, a fairly common deciduous holly, shine like a thousand tiny bright cherries, cherring up the most omber winter landscape. Its bright, showy berries make it a popular component of winter displays. It has a host of other names, including — mysteriously, since they share no attributes– black and brook alder, inkberry, Michigan holly, Possumhaw and Swamp Holly.
And while I have to pity whomever was stuck with this task, according to the Encyclopedia of life, “The berry-like fruit is about 1/4 inch in diameter, each containin small nutlets. There are an average of 92,000 seeds per pound.”
The attractive red berries are eaten by mammals and 48 species of birds. The leaves and stems are browsed by moose, rabbits, white tailed deer and snowshoe hares.
Native Americans drank a bark tea as an “emetic for craziness,” a tonic, and a remedy for diarrhea, according to Mother Earth Living. They used a root preparation to ease hay fever symptoms, the origin of yet another name, Fever Bush.
The leaves, when dried and crumbled, may be used to make a beverage tea, with no caffeine.
It is a tough plant which is easy to grow, with very few diseases or pests. Although wet acidic soils are optimal, the winterberry will grow well in the average garden.
This Mountain Winterberry was photographed in the Seven Tubs Natural Area.