Does your holly bush protect your home from lightning strikes? Centuries ago, people revered holly bushes because their thorns attracted lightning, keeping them safely away from barns and homes. In fact, science backs it up: the thorns in holly leaves act like miniature lightning rods, protecting the holly and nearby buildings from impact.
It is recommended to plant winterberry holly instead of Japanese barberry and pyracantha, as both of these can become invasive. Wild birds eat the fruits and spread the seeds.
Winter holly (Ilex verticillata) is a deciduous shrub that sheds its leaves in the fall, revealing the bright red berries that last from winter through spring. These shrubs are often sold as small potted plants during the Christmas season.
Winterberry is a slow-growing shrub that typically reaches 3 to 15 feet tall. It spreads by suckers and can form large thickets. The dark green, elliptical leaves are 2 to 3 inches long. Small, light greenish-white flowers bloom in spring.
Unlike other familiar hollies, winterberry is a deciduous shrub rather than an evergreen. While this might be seen as a disadvantage, it turns out to be a beneficial trait, as it allows the exciting display of red berries to come to the fore as winter arrives. All attention is drawn to the fruits of the plant, with no foliage to obstruct the view. Not only do the bright berries add significant color to winter landscapes, they also attract colorful birds that like to feed on the prolific red berries. These plants will attract overwintering bluebirds, robins, catbirds, cedar waxwings, and woodpeckers.
Winterberry shrubs typically grow in moist areas, so they are a good choice for areas of your property that are somewhat soggy or poorly drained. However, they also grow in well-drained soil, as long as they are watered regularly. Winter berry bushes are generally resistant to pests and diseases. Occasionally, they can catch powdery mildew, which is rarely serious.
Plant holly as a property border, along pathways or as a privacy screen. Group several of them together as part of a songbird sanctuary. Because winterberry naturally prefers acidic soils, you can add pine needles, oak leaves, or aluminum sulfate to the planting bed.
Winterberry is dioecious, which means that male flowers and female flowers grow on separate plants. In order to produce berries, you will need a nearby male plant to pollinate the female flowers. A single male plant will pollinate up to 20 female plants if grown within 40 feet.
The bark, berries, and leaves of holly are mildly toxic because they contain theobromine, which is similar to caffeine. In small amounts, theobromine is harmless to humans, although large amounts cause stomach upset. Indeed, a particular species of holly, Yaupon Holly, is named Ilex vomitoria, and it is used in traditional Native American medicine to induce vomiting.
For winter beauty and to feed our feathered friends, plant a holly hedge. Enjoy the antics of woodpeckers and cedar waxwings eating the bright red berries, and know that those holly bushes might lightly shield your home from lightning.