This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Small, greenish white, the staminate clusters 2 to 10 flowered; the fertile ones 1 to 3 flowered. Stem: A shrub 6 to 2s ft. high. Leaves: Oval, tapering to a point, about 1 in. wide, saw-edged, dark green, smooth above, hairy, especially along veins underneath. Fruit: Bright red berries, about the size of a pea, apparently whorled around the twigs.
Preferred Habitat - Swamps, ditches, fence-rows, and low thickets.
Flowering Season - June - July.
Distribution - Nova Scotia to Florida, west to Missouri.
Beautiful bright-red berries, dotted or clustered along the naked twigs of the black alder, add an indispensable cheeriness to the sombre winter landscape. Bunches of them, commonly sold in the city streets for household decoration, bring twenty-five cents each; hence the shrubs within a large radius of each market get ample pruning every autumn. The leaves turn black before dropping off.
The Smooth Winterberry (I. laevigata), a similar species, but of more restricted range, ripens its larger, orange-red berries earlier than the preceding, and before its leaves, which turn yellow, not black, in autumn, have fallen. Another distinguishing feature is that its small, greenish-white staminate flowers grow on long, very slender pedicels; whereas the solitary fertile flowers are much nearer the stem.