Holly (Ilex aquifolium
) is a striking evergreen tree with red berries and glossy green leaves that have been long used to make Christmas decorations.Holly is native to Britain, western and southern Europe, northwest Africa and southwest Asia. It is often used as hedgerow plant.
Holly is an evergreen tree that typically grows to 10 - 15 metres tall with a trunk of 40 - 80 cm in diameter and smooth grey bark.
The glossy green leaves are 5 - 12 cm long and 2 - 6 cm broad, with three to five sharp spines on each side, pointing alternately upward and downward. On higher branches of older trees they have few or no spines except for the leaf tip.
It has small, white flowers in spring that pollinated by bees.
The red berries are 6 - 10 mm in diameter. They mature in late autumn, but are very bitter due to their ilicin content. So they are rarely touched by birds until late winter after frost has made them softer and more palatable.
Holly berries are somewhat toxic to humans.
Holly wood is a very pale, white wood. It's heavy, hard and fine grained making it ideal for furniture or engraving. Holly wood also makes good firewood.
Holly branches are often used to decorate homes and make wreaths at Christmas.
Holly is rarely used medicinally due to its toxicity, but is diuretic, relieves fevers and has a laxative action.
Mythology and symbolism
Holly branches have long been used to decorate homes in winter - well before the first Christmas. The Romans used to give each other holly boughs during their winter festival of Saturnalia.
The tree was also thought to be a fertility symbol and charm against witches, goblins and the devil. Cutting down a holly tree was thought to be unlucky.