How to figure out Winter Berry gender - Paul Snyder


Now is the time to determine the gender of your winterberry.

"Is my winterberry a male or female?" "I thought I bought a female and a male but I don't have any berries." 

Comments and questions like the ones above usually come during the fall or winter when the bright red berries begin to show up on Ilex verticillata, winterberry. But at that point in the season it is too late to tell. If you purchase a female but don't have a male (or the right male) and end up with no berries, you may think that you bought a male and go out and buy another female. 

Winterberry is dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants.

Winterberries are flowering now, though the early flowering selections have mostly finished flowering and the late flowering selections are just beginning. Now is the only time to tell the difference between male and female plants (besides if you have berries then you know you have a female). But what if you have no berries!? How do you know if you have a male or female winterberry? Keep reading.

Male FlowersMale flowers starting to open.

Male flowers will be staminate, that is they will lack the female pistil. Moreover, male flowers are borne in clusters of seven to twelve.

Male FlowersMale flowers. Note the yellow stamens and lack of a pistil in the center.

Female flowers are pistillate and borne singly or in clusters of three.

Female flowersNotice there are three flowers per cluster.

Female flowersPistillate Female Flowers

Now that you know the differences between the flowers you can solve the puzzle of no berries.

Winter Red Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red'

Look for more on winterberry this fall.

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