Catberry or Mountain Holly

Nemopanthus mucronatus = Ilex mucronata

This interesting eastern North American shrub is so different from the rest of hollies that for centuries it was treated as the only plant in the holly family other than hollies. Recently, however, molecular biologists have placed catberry together with hollies. Catberry is a northerner in our flora, reaching to Massachusetts and even farther south all the way from northern Canada. The closer you approach ponds, swamps, and bogs, the more chances for you to spot it. Yet it is also capable of jumping quite away from the water, up slopeā€”the way it occurs along the trail in Alper Preserve. This is a clonal shrub forming dense groups of tall (to 12 ft) straight stems with smooth light gray bark. Like other hollies, it is dioecious (that is, keeping its staminate and pistillate flowers on separate clones). The flowers start to develop at the end of April before the leaves, and the shrub covered with a multitude of tiny blooms then looks like a large yellow cloud. Flowers of both sexes are meager and become inconspicuous amidst leaves, once the foliage develops; the fruits, however, are truly spectacular: colored raspberry red, they are dotting the entire large shrub, dangling on long stalks, like miniature cherries. Too bad that they don't hold long and soon are dropped to the ground. Fruits are dispersed by birds: ruffed grouse, robin, migrating songbirds, and also by black bears. In the fall catberry becomes conspicuous for another while due to its pale lemon autumn foliage color.

See all photos for this species at

Spectacular, brightly colored fruits on long stalks. July 21, Myles Standish SF

Fruiting shrub. East Head Reservoir, July 21, Myles Standish SF, Plymouth

Start of flowering in spring, before developing leaves. April 29, Ponkapoag Bog, Blue Hills Reservation, Canton

Pistillate flower. May 12, Blue Hills Res., Quincy

Staminate flowers. May 15, Black Pond Cons. Area, Norwell

A flowering branch.

Stems with smooth gray bark. June 20, Ponkapoag Bog, Blue Hills Reservation, Canton

Autumn color. October 18, Bloody Pond Cons. Area, Plymouth