Holly has been tacked on to all things Christmas.
Like so many of the things associated with Christmas it has a history in pagan days. There are stories of Druids wearing holly on their heads when they went off into the woods.
Holly is recognized as a sacred plant of Saturn.
Christian traditions have carried the meaning forth from the pagans. It is so often adorns our doors and windows, and recognized to drive away evil spirits away. (Maybe we could use it as a symbol for driving away Covid-19, and everyone has it hanging on their door!).
Specifically, Jesus is portrayed as wearing a crown of thorns, made from holly, when on the cross. In Christian literature the red berries represent the blood of Christ. In the traditional Christmas carol "The Holly and the Ivy", the holly is seen to represent Jesus and the ivy, the Virgin Mary
Holly is an evergreen – specifically a broadleaf evergreen, rather than an evergreen with needles.
There are many types of holly in many places in the world and in many different climates.
Fossil records show it has been around for at least 50 million years!
Holly is a plant that is dioecious – the male and female flowers are on different plants. They can grow easily in singles. 'he Holly' has prickly leaves and the 'she Holly' leaves are smooth surfaced.
The flowers of the holly are small and white. The berries are technically drupes with ten little seeds inside. They are generally red and ripen in the winter. Hence, they are good Christmas décor with their red and green colour.
The berries are slightly toxic for people. They should be kept away from children. They are good food for birds.
Birds will eat the berries and the seeds are excreted elsewhere. This does mean non-native species of holly are spread to natural habitats and may be regarded as noxious weeds.
Holly is rarely grown commercially. It is a slow growing plant and does not ship easily.
Here in southern Ontario the Winterberry species is the most popular one. My neighbour has one tucked into her garden and I have a nice simple arrangement on my kitchen table.
Two other interesting holly facts:
- Yerbe mate tea is originally from a South American variety of holly leaves, and has many touted health benefits, including helping with weight loss.
- Harry Potter’s wand is made from the holly bush. It was good for keeping the evil spirits away!