Thursday, 9 December 2010

Trees (1): Holly, a seasonal species

'Now the holly bears a berry . . .'
trad. Christmas carol
Christmas draws ever nearer, so I thought I would post a plant that brings seasonal cheer. Holly is evergreen and although I tend to think of it as a bush, we often find holly trees. The berries are usually red, but there are some species that produce yellow ones. It's strange that these berries which provide such desirable nourishment for birds, are not safe for human consumption. It takes a frost or two to mellow the flavour of the berries, apparently.

I had not realized until now that the prickles on the leaves afford two-fold protection for small birds. They provide security during winter storms and also a measure of safety from predators. The Welsh word, 'celyn', which I see on road names around my home, means 'holly'. The botanical name is 'ilex'.

The wood from holly (that sounds less confusing than holly wood!) has been used in the making of 'white' chess pieces. Holly was also used for winter fodder before the agrarian measures introduced by a Norfolk man, Turnip Townshend (and here).

Holly reminds us of Christmas by its very nature, as we know from the words of the carol I used as a caption above. The red berries remind us that Christ came to bring salvation through the shedding of his blood. The prickles are a picture of the crown of thorns.


Mary said...

What a lovely photo of the holly and interesting information.

Andrea said...

Those are beautiful, our hollies here don't fruit at all. They are of different species and small leaves used for making topiaries. I thought before that whatever birds eat, men can also eat!

Ryan said...

Holly is most definitely an image associated with Christmas, great photo.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I love holly bushes, they (and ivy) make such welcome splashes of green in the winter landscape