December 15, 2020

The holiday season is steeped in traditions and customs often connected to plants. Think decking the halls with boughs of holly… and I will pause a moment for those who wish to let out a hearty “fa la la la la la la la la!” Hollies, which belong to the genus Ilex, have a symbolic meaning among Celtic, Christian, Norse, and Roman mythologies, where gifting a person holly was considered a gesture of goodwill and decorating the home with holly branches was a way to ward off evil spirits. In Celtic culture, holly is a symbol for fertility and eternal life, likely a reference to the evergreen nature of hollies which keep their leaves year-round, offering a sign of life even in the bleak darkness of winter.

In modern times, the dark green foliage and red berries have made hollies quite popular as a landscaping plant. This popularity has, in turn, provided additional benefits for wildlife. The vibrant, waxy fruit – which is present during the winter – is consumed by robins, thrushes, bluebirds, waxwings, and other songbirds searching for a meal. And the evergreen nature of hollies provides excellent shelter for wildlife when many hardwoods and deciduous shrubs have lost their leaves for the season.

This balance of the cultural, aesthetic, and natural value of hollies makes them a desirable plant to include around the house. Palmetto Bluff is fortunate to be the home of five species of native Ilex that are also easy to find at local plant nurseries. Whether you are interested in traditional significances, lush hedges, or in providing food for songbirds, hollies are a great addition to your future landscaping plans.

Written by Aaron Palmieri

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