We associate Holly with Christmas, its bright red berries and glossy evergreen leaves feature on Christmas Cards, Wrapping Paper, Christmas jumpers and are used in table decorations and garlands on our front doors.
There are hundreds of species of Holly; some ‘shrubs’ only grow up to two metres high, whilst ‘trees’ can grow up to forty metres tall, red berried varieties are perhaps the most common but there are yellow and black berried varieties and even some that don’t have prickly leaves. Each species has ‘male’ and ‘female’ plants which both bear white flowers in May/June, yet only the female plants can produce berries this is dependant on there being a ‘male’ plant nearby for pollination by insects and bees.
Holly berries are toxic to humans causing sickness and severe stomach aches if eaten, yet they are a vital source of winter food for birds such as thrushes and blackbirds, each berry contains four seeds which pass through the birds, germinate and grow into new plants. The prickly leaves are important too, they give birds protection from predators and provide a safe roost amongst the branches.
Holly was considered to be a sacred plant by the Druids who hung it on windows and doorways to fend off evil spirits and witches; they thought that cutting down a Holly tree would bring bad luck, although hanging branches in their homes would bring good luck.
The Romans hung up Holly during the festival of Saturnalia to celebrate Saturn the god of agriculture and harvest.
Christians today associate red Holly berries with the blood that Christ shed when he died on the cross and the pointed leaves the crown of thorns that was placed on his head.
However you think of Holly, it is a beautiful and unique plant that is easy to grow, why not give someone a Holly plant or two as a gift so that they can pick their own Holly in years to come.
We would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year from Gardening With Children and everyone at Gardening Works.
Have a wonderful time