The Innovation Behind The Sun Valley Group’s Patented Winter Spirit ILEX

Some plants are easier to breed than others. However, it takes a long time to breed ilex verticillata — commonly called winterberry.

In 2006, Lane DeVries started working with some Ilex test plants, which he had planted on a plot of land in a beautiful location — on the inside of a bend on the nationally designated Wild and Scenic Trinity River in Northern California. This microclimate provides a perfect spot to grow ilex, Cotinus, rose hips and other botanicals.

DeVries ranked each individual plant using a 30-point scale based on the positioning of the berries on the stem, the saturation of color, the size and number of berries, and stem length. He took cuttings from 20 of the outstanding performers and these were repropagated and replanted —this process created identical genetic copies of the strongest plants. Then, he planted, tested, replanted and retested, creating ilex plants with the most desirable traits, such as berries that occupy the entire lateral, requiring virtually no pruning. This entire process requires continual improvement —Choosing the best genes to carry forward each year for the last 16 years.

Next, DeVries took the best selections and let the bees do their work cross-pollinating the flowers and creating unique new strains of ilex. He had the fields diagrammed like a stadium, each plant in an assigned section, row and seat so that it could be closely tracked and monitored. This systematic undertaking was — and is — a labor of love for DeVries.

Sun Valley has gone through the extensive process of patenting their exclusive ilex varieties. Available now, is the particularly impressive: Winter Spirit. Known for its hard, vibrant red berries positioned close to the stem in a tight, dense formation. Winter Spirit is a stand-out, with nearly 3 times greater stems per plant, many more than its closest rival, even within the Sun Valley ilex collection.

“Consumers are looking for new varieties and new items in the floral department; as flower farmers, we need to be very cognizant of this and actively work to fulfill the need. Our ilex varieties achieve this goal,” said DeVries. “These varieties out-perform existing varieties, with better yield, better berry density, and longer holding capacity of the berries.” – Lane DeVries, President and CEO.