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Plant Profile: Inkberry

Native profile of the Inkberry, a noninvasive alternative to Privet for Groton

Inkberry, Ilex glabra, (also known as Appalachian Tea and Gallberry) is an evergreen shrub native to the eastern United States, belonging to the holly family, Aquifoliaceae. It is commonly known for its glossy, dark green foliage and its tolerance to various growing conditions. Inkberry is valued in landscaping for its ornamental appeal, versatility, and ability to attract wildlife. Inkberry is a good native option to the four varieties of privet (California, Border, Chinese, and European) which are listed as invasive in Massachusetts.


Inkberry typically grows 6 to 10 feet tall, though it can sometimes reach up to 15 feet in height. The leaves are leathery, shiny, and elliptical, measuring around 1 to 2 inches in length. They are dark green in color with a lighter underside. Inconspicuous white flowers bloom in spring, attracting pollinators. Female plants produce small black berries in late summer or fall, which persist through winter. These berries are a valuable food source for birds.


Photo Credit Birds Canada

 

Inkberry grows best in partial to full sun but can tolerate some shade. It prefers moist, acidic, well-drained soil but can adapt to a range of soil types, including sandy or clay soils. Regular watering is essential, especially during the establishment period. Once established, inkberry is moderately drought-tolerant. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9, making it suitable for a wide range of climates, including Groton. Inkberry generally requires minimal maintenance, but occasional pruning may be necessary to maintain its shape or remove dead or damaged branches.

 

Inkberry is often used for formal or informal hedges due to its dense growth habit and tolerance of shearing. Its compact size and attractive foliage make it well-suited for planting around foundations or in mixed borders. Inkberry can be planted en masse to create visually appealing backgrounds or groundcover and the berries of the plant attract birds, making it a valuable addition to wildlife gardens.

 

Relatively resistant to pests, Inkberry may occasionally suffer from issues such as scale insects or leaf miners. It is generally resistant to most diseases, though root rot can occur in poorly drained soils.

 

There are two main varieties of the Inkberry commonly available to gardeners: Shamrock and Compacta.


Shamrock features dense, compact growth and is well-suited for use as a hedge.

Shamrock Inkberry with white flowers

 

Compacta has a more compact growth habit, making it ideal for smaller landscapes or containers.

Compacta Inkberry oval leaves that are glossy green

  

It is important to note that some people may experience skin irritation from contact with the foliage or berries of inkberry, so gloves are recommended when handling the plant. However, Inkberry remains a versatile and attractive shrub that adds year-round interest to gardens and landscapes. With its glossy foliage, white flowers, and black berries, it provides both aesthetic appeal and ecological value, making it a popular choice among gardeners and landscapers alike.

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