Christmas is now just round the corner, you can expect to see holly used in many different decorations. With its bright red berries and sharp, prickly leaves, a holly tree makes a festive addition to any winter scene or Christmas card.

Holly trees are male or female – that is the flowers of some make pollen and the flowers of others make the ova.  If a gardener wants berries on their holly in winter, they would need to make sure that they plant one of each sex, or if they have a female tree, that there is a male planted nearby for access to pollen.

Holly trees bloom at any point from early spring to the beginning of summer, but this will be dependent on the local climate.  The flowers are insect pollinated and once fertilised, will develop into the bright red berries which will remain on the plant for the whole of the winter.

Holly berries are a tasty treat for the local birds snd small mammals such as dormice.  At one time the leaves were used to feed cattle and sheep, as a supplement or addition to hay, due to their high calorific value.  Birds may take advantage of the nesting opportunities within the dense foliage.  The dead leaves which fall from the tree make great leaf litter and can be used in the hibernation dens of small mammals and hedgehogs.

The wood of the holly tree is beautifully white.  It has been used in carpentry and cabinet making, engineering, for mathematical instruments, wood engraving and veneering.  It easily accepts dye and so is often used as a substitute for ebony.  Folklore suggests that holly gives control over animals and so the handles of most whips of coach drivers and ploughmen were traditionally made from holly.

Holly’s association with winter festivals dates back to pre-christian times when it was brought into the house to wards off evil fairies and to encourage fairies to take shelter without friction between them and the resident humans.  Boys and girls would also be dressed up in suits of holly and ivy to parade around the village to bring nature through the darkness of winter and encourage another year of fertility for the land.

Holly trees were traditionally planted near houses to protect the building from lightning strikes. European mythology associates holly with thunder gods such as Thor and Taranis. Thanks to modern Science, we now know that the spines holly leaves can act as miniature lightning conductors, explaining why they remain unharmed during storms and protect nearby plants and structures.

Why don’t you take a picture if you see a holly tree in full berry and send it to Mrs Welch or Mrs Marsay, and we can feature it on our readers pictures posts?

Until next time, Keep calm and apply some Science!

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