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There’s more to ivy’s festive counterpart than first meets the eye…

  • Holly is one of just three native trees to keep its green leaves in winter (Scots pine and yew being the other two) – so it is steeped in ancient myth and legend.
holly
Holly
  • Holly was often allowed to grow taller than other trees in hedgerows – to give farmers a line of sight during winter ploughing (the more fanciful reason was to stop witches running across the tops of the hedges!)
  • Holly trees are “dioecious” meaning that they are either male or female. Confusingly, the variety ‘Golden King’ is female and ‘Silver Queen’ is male!
  • Only female trees bear berries – if you have poor crops of berries on your holly, try planting a male one near it.
  • There’s a variety of holly called ‘hedgehog holly’ which not only has spines around the edges of the leaves, the leaf surfaces are covered in prickles as well.
  • Holly crops up in lots of place names – from the obvious like Hollywood (one in Staffordshire, one in Worcestershire, and maybe one somewhere else…?) to the less obvious such as Holme Fen and Holmesdale – ‘holme’ is the old English word for holly.
  • Their wood is hard like ebony and was formerly used to make piano keys and chess pieces.
  • Japanese holly, Ilex crenata, has tiny leaves with no spines – it makes an excellent substitute for box. It’s probably a plant we’ll see a lot more of in the Japanese Holly
Japanese Holly
Japanese Holly
  • future: real box (Buxus) is getting harder and harder to grow as box blight and box tree caterpillars become more common.
  • ‘English’ holly is just one of over 500 species of holly that grow worldwide – in every continent apart from Antarctica.

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