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What Christmas home would be complete without some holly to decorate it?  Synonymous with Christmas, holly has been used for nearly 2000 years to bring welcome festive cheer to homes across the country both large and small.  From wreaths and garlands, to present bows and picture decorations there are endless ways to use holly.  Let’s face it; what Christmas pudding would be complete without its traditional decoration

Holly was first adopted in ancient Rome at the Saturnalia, a three day festival observed each December, and was then adopted by the early Christians living there, who felt it was a shrub to be associated with good cheer.

It is now as essential to our 21st-century festivities as it was to early pagans and Christians, and a glossy sprig over your front door is said to  protect your house from lightning and evil influences while welcoming good elves and fairies.

There are approximately 400 species of holly, even deciduous ones! However, the tree has been in cultivation for so long that horticulturists have developed cultivars and hybrids which outnumber the species.

Hollies are either male or female. Although a few female hollies produce berries without their flowers being pollinated, most do not, and even those that do are likely to set more fruit if a male is growing nearby.

 

Suggested care of cut holly

  1. Moisten holly on arrival. Perhaps submerge it in water for a few minutes. Shake gently. Pick off damaged or blackened berries and damaged leaves.
  2. For display, holly will last longer if treated as cut flowers: cut off tips of stems under water and keep in cool fresh water. If not to be displayed immediately, store in a plastic bag at cool temperatures above freezing point.
  3. Keep away from frost and excessive heat. Avoid placing near fruit or where it may be affected by fumes from gas and oil stoves.

    Note: Holly Berries are NOT edible.

 Holly

Holly - Ilex aquifolium

  The holly is a tree which is both a broadleaf and an evergreen. It is a common native shrub or small tree throughout the UK except for Caithness, Orkney and Shetland. Holly is shade-tolerant, and common in many oak and beech woods as an understorey.

There are 400 species of Ilex in tropical and temperate regions across most of Europe, North Africa and Asia, with many more forms in cultivation. The holly native to Britain and Ireland has the Latin name Ilex aquifolium. It has dark green leathery leaves, stiff and sometimes twisted. They are readily distinguished by their spines. These prickly leaves protect holly from browsing deer and livestock. Higher up the tree the 'prickles' or spines may be absent from the leaves.

  Holly is often planted for ornament; numerous cultivars or varieties exist with variegated or two-coloured leaves and different coloured berries.

 Holly is normally dioecious - which means it has separate male and female plants. The flowers are white and appear in summer. The ovary ripens in October to produce a bright red berry containing four 'nutlets' or seeds. In the wild trees start to produce berries when they are 20 years old. The berries are an important food source for many birds, such as thrushes,  fieldfares, redwings and waxwings. If uneaten, the berries will stay on the tree until the following May.

 A good crop of berries is said to be a warning of a hard winter on the way but, in fact, a bumper berry crop is not a sign of bad weather to come but the result of a fine summer just past.

Wood

  The wood is white or greyish white and generally featureless though  sometimes with greenish streaks. It  is much denser than  that of any other native hardwood. Like boxwood, it is used for carving, inlaying and woodcuts. When dyed it resembles ebony..

Folklore

  Many a holly tree was spared the woodman's axe in days gone by because of a superstition that it was unlucky to cut one down. This belief probably arose  because of the tree's evergreen leaves and long lasting berries, leaving people to associate holly with eternity and the power to ward off evil and destruction.  Holly has long been a symbol of Christmas and is often used to decorate  houses at this time of year.Its berries are said to symbolise drops of Christ's blood.

 The colour red was used to ward off evil, witchcraft, the evil eye, demons and  house goblins such as Robin Goodfellow, Brownie and Hobthrust. In Ireland  the holly was called the "gentle tree" and the favourite tree of the fairies.

Leaves of a female holly would be placed under the pillow to foresee the future in dreams.

Medicinal Properties

  It was believed whooping cough could be cured by drinking milk out of a  bowl made from the wood of the holly.

 A tea made of holly leaves was given to promote sweating in cases of catarrh,     pleurisy and smallpox, and to relieve fever and rheumatism.

 The berries caused violent sickness, but powdered they were used to stop bleeding.

 A substance called birdlime was made by fermenting young bark. Birdlime is a sticky substance used for catching birds. It  was also used as an insect repellent in hot countries