Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Flower of the Month

Thank you to Susan for yet again providing us with an interesting article about our flower of the month.


With holly and ivy
So green and so gay,
We deck up our houses
As fresh as the day.
With bays and rosemary, and laurel complete,
And everyone now
Is a king in conceit.
- Unknown

The English Holly, Ilex aquifolium, and the American Holly, Ilex opaca, are common symbols of Christmas time. Images of this plant decorate greeting cards, wrapping papers, dishes, glasses, vases and linens which we display during the holiday season. “Deck the halls with boughs of holly” describes the ancient tradition of incorporating the holly, with its green leaves and bright red berries, (traditional colors of Christmas) into wreaths, garlands and centerpieces. It is said that branches of holly were brought into the home during Roman times to celebrate the festival of Saturnalia, which took place during the winter solstice. Many beliefs and superstitions advocated bringing branches of holly inside to protect the home against malevolent elves and fairies or to enable benevolent fairies to live in the home among humans during the cold weather. Planted outside the home or barn, holly was said to protect against lightening strikes. Modern science confirms that the spines of the holly leaves are able to conduct electricity to the ground, which protects the area surrounding them.

The homeowner has reason to plant hollies near the home and around the property for their great ornamental value as well. The English Holly, with its glossy dark green leaves, is highly ornamental year round and the yellow, orange or red berries on female plants during the autumn and winter months provide cheer when it is sorely needed. Birds eat the fruit, which adds another attractive dimension. The English Holly has over 400 cultivars so there is a variety which will fit your location and taste. Leaves are usually a dark green but plants can be purchased which have blue-green, white variegated or yellow variegated foliage. Stems can be green or purple. Berries are various shades of red, orange or yellow, depending on the variety. Size can range from a foot to fifty feet in height.

Hollies of all species need acid soil that is well drained and rich in organic matter. They do best in partial shade but will tolerate full sun in cooler climates. Protect them from wind which tends to desiccate the leaves, especially during the winter months, causing them to turn brown. Most hollies are dioecious which means they bear male and female flowers on different plants. If you want your hollies to bear fruit, be sure to have a male holly planted within a few hundred feet of it. One male holly plant can produce enough pollen to fertilize up to six female plants.

Holly berries, though eaten by birds, are toxic to humans. Bees make a reddish colored honey from the flowers, which is described as mild, sweet and buttery in flavor. The wood of holly is extremely hard and ivory in color. It is used for inlaid marquetry, and takes stain beautifully. It has been used to make walking sticks, riding whips, tool, broom and brush handles, chess pieces and piano keys.

This spring, plant a holly somewhere on your property. The ornamental qualities will delight you and you will have branches to bring inside each December.

Take photos of the holly adorned Christmas decorations which are part of your particular “decking the halls” tradition. If you have an heirloom piece, please tell us something about it.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

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