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The Holly Bears the Crown

Posted: Friday 15th December 2017 by Nature Notes

The Holly Bears the CrownHolly

From wreaths and garlands to cards and carols, no plant evokes Christmas quite like holly.

holly has been used since pre-Christian times to help celebrate the winter solstice

This is despite a more obvious potential connection with Easter: the berries and thorny leaves are said to symbolize Jesus’ blood on the crown of thorns.

In fact holly has been used since pre-Christian times to help celebrate the winter solstice, warding off evil spirits and representing new growth. Its bright red berries and glossy green leaves, which provide a splash of life in the bleak midwinter, were thought to have magical powers. A sprig of holly hung in the home brought good luck.

Holly’s striking appearance makes it a valuable evergreen plant in the garden. It grows in most soils and copes well with sun or shade. Plants are dioecious, with male and female flowers on different plants. Only the females produce berries and need a nearby male to pollinate them.

Holly’s dense foliage and sharp prickles protect and shelter the nests of winter birds such as robins, dunnocks, finches and goldcrests. The berries are an essential food source for many species, including blackbirds, fieldfares, redwings and thrushes. Indeed, mistle thrushes guard their holly bushes so fiercely that they will chase off any potential thieves.

Hedgehogs and other small mammals, as well as toads and slow worms, use holly’s deep leaf litter to hibernate, while bees collect the nectar and pollen. Caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly eat the buds, berries and terminal leaves of holly in the spring generation and ivy in the summer generation.

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