Where I grew up is now deep in snow, winter truly has arrived. My brothers who live in the area that I grew up will be out finding a tree at the lake to be decorated for Christmas. Often when I was little one of the excitements was getting the big box of gifts from Grandma who lived in Surrey, it would be sent up on the bus. Along with the gifts, she always sent homemade cookies, fruitcake and some of the wonderful Holly which grew at their place. The Holly(Ilex aquifolium) was for my mother as it did not grow in such a cold place as Prince George.
Holly has been with us a long time. the Romans used to send boughs of Holly with gifts to their friends for the Saturnalia Festival, which was the most popular of all. Holly was the sacred plant of Saturn. Saturnalia Festival was celebrated from December 17th to the 23rd and commemorated the dedication of the Temple of Saturn to the the God of the same name. The festival popularity was do to it’s good hearted nature where much jesting and pranks were pulled. Another feature of the festival was the role reversal of masters and slaves.
From the Saturnalia Festival the Christians where thought to have adopted Holly. it is believed the used the Holly to avoid ill treatment and religious prosecution. Holly being a common Northern European plant already was an important Pagan plant which was used by the Druids to adorn their heads. It was believed the plant had magical qualities and drove away evil spirits. Holly is now used to symbolize the crown of thorns Jesus wore with the berries representing his blood.
It is interesting that ‘Ilex’ it’s Latin name refers to another plant all together; the Holm Oak – Quercus ilex. Pliny refers to Holly as ‘Aquifolius’ which is it’s classic Latin name and where our newer ‘aquifolium’ comes from. Pliny said that if it was planted near a home it would repel poison(which is strange because the berries are) and protect the house from lightening and witchcraft. He also said that the flowers would cause water to freeze.
There are many Hollies now which have been collected as sports or crosses with other simalar species which most commonly include latifolia and or perado var. platyphylla. There are other species also which are attractive garden specimens and may be seen in Ilex species collections. A good collection of Hollies near me is located at Dominion Brook Park in North Saanich, at one time this collection was one of the best in North America.
The first Holly was brought to Vancouver Island in 1851 by Joseph Despard Pemberton. At one time this area was an important Holly harvesting area because the plant grows so well here. Over time the industry has died out do to the extremely valuable land it is on and problems such as leaf miners and twig blight damaging the crops.
Ilex aquifolium is interesting in that it has(monoecious) male and female plants, this is easily discerned by the presence of brightly colored berries on the female plants. Holly is native in Western to Southern Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. it has spread by seed and has become a problem in other areas where it is considered invasive. Here we find it in woodlands where it becomes a prickly problem and is removed along with other pest species of plants. One must take this into to consideration when selecting a plant.
Hollies are easy to grow and are undemanding. It prefers slightly acidic soil which is well drained yet nutrient rich, a yearly mulch is much appreciated. These are plants which can take shade or sun very well. Pruning can be done at anytime and they have traditionally been used for topiary. Holly can be used many ways depending on the type you are growing, the more plain types make excellent hedges and shrubs in a border. The more attractive leaf forms are often used as specimens. Old leaves dry and become very prickly so this is not a good plant for lawns or areas where people want to kick off their shoes or with small children.
Holly grows to 50 ft(15.5m) tall by15ft(4.5m) wide. It is rated as zones 6 (-10f or -12c) and above. Place your Holly so it does not get damaging dry North winds during the winter.
More about Holly:
Saturnalia Festival: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia
Until we meet again later….