Plant of the Week: Red Sprite Winterberry

A mockingbird snacks on Red Sprite winterberries. Photo by Mike Tschappat

The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

As cold and dreary weather sets in for the season, the bright red berries of Ilex verticillata 'Nana' – winterberry – adorn the High Line with holiday cheer.

A shrub native to the eastern United States, winterberry is a deciduous member of the Aquifoliaceae, or holly, family. Winterberry typically grows six to twelve feet tall and is adaptable to a wide range of soil and light conditions, although it prefers partial to full sun in moist, acidic, organic soil. It has alternate, simple, sharply toothed two-to-three-inch long glabrous green leaves that grow on slender stems with brownish gray bark. Winterberries are dioecious, which means they have male and female flowers on separate plants. Modest white flowers attract insect pollinators throughout late spring. The flowers of female plants transform into dramatic clusters of red berries that really pop once the foliage has dropped at the end of autumn. Birds feed on the berries and use these shrubs for nesting sites and cover throughout the year.

At the High Line you will find Red Sprite winterberry, a compact cultivar that grows up to four feet tall and wide and boasts particularly abundant and showy bright red berries. The male cultivar 'Jim Dandy' is growing nearby to assure fertilization and berry set. Though these attractive native shrubs delight all year, they are notably welcome in winter as the berries often persist all season!


You can see Red Sprite winterberry on the High Line between Gansevoort and Little West 12th Streets and between 20th and 23rd Streets.

Download our December bloom list.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line's most important gardening projects – become a member of Friends of the High Line today!

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