Holly is a favourite at Christmas, with little else signifying the spirit of Christmas more than a pretty holly wreath. What would Christmas be like without the beloved Holly? Yet, holly is not only a symbol of the festive season; it is a versatile plant with lots to offer both the gardener and the florist.
Holly is an evergreen shrub, found growing throughout the UK in many different soil types. Suitable for cultivating into hedgerows, it is popular in parks and can often be found at the roadside bordering fields and gardens. The shelter of the spiky leaves is popular with birds and other wildlife, offering excellent protection against predators. Birds especially also love the softened holly berries.
Holly berries are most frequently distributed by birds - who eat them, then deposit the often intact berries once they've gone through their system! It will be of interest to the gardener - who, if keeping holly will perhaps already know this - that rabbits are notorious for striping the bark. This is a favourite rabbit hobby! Pollination of holly is carried out by bees and other insects.
Generally speaking, holly is most commonly found in ash and beech forests, as it tolerates the lower shaded position. Strangely, holly is very rarely seen in Scotland but occurs throughout the rest of Western and Central Europe.
The berries of holly, while admittedly poisonous, post minimal risk to adult humans. They can however be very bad for young children and pets. In the past, holly berries have been used in "medicine" for the inducement of nausea and vomiting. Holly flowers are produced in spring around April or May, and are very sweet smelling. Tiny and white, the flowers are reminiscent of hawthorn blossom.
Holly leaves - as many florists and flower arrangers will be aware - can vary greatly in colour and form. Most are quite simple, but dependant on the species leaves can be "entire", "toothed", or "spire tipped".
Since Victorian times, it has been believed by some that holly symbolises envy and suspicion. More recently however, this theory has become antiquated; how could something so festive have such negative sentiments? Today holly is the essence of Christmas, representing peace on earth and good will toward man.