Casey’s Tree of the Month – American Holly

Nothing gets me into the holiday spirit more than seeing Holly (Ilex opaca)  decorating a house. This is actually an ancient tradition as the presence of holly was thought to ward off witchcraft and demons. Spooky, right?

Later, in England, mystical rules were used to govern when to decorate with holly. Under these rules, holly must not be brought into the house before Christmas and must be taken down on the Twelfth Night. It was believed that for every leaf left indoors past the Twelfth Night, a misfortune would occur.

Holly was once in danger because of heavy harvesting of natural stands during the winter months, but is starting to make a comeback due to commercial farm production.  Holly is a dioecious plant, meaning it is either a female or male. Only the females produce the red berries, and they must be pollinated by a nearby male plant. If you are interested in planting this tree on your property and want a showing of red berries, you must plant at least one male plant for several females.

Many species of holly are also caffeine-rich. One species, Ilex paraguariensis, is used to make yerba maté, a popular South American drink. If you’ve never had it, I highly recommend it. It has an earthy flavor somewhat similar to green tea. Be careful not to boil the water first, this gives the maté a bitter taste.

However you decide to incorporate holly into your holidays, I hope you enjoy this most wonderful time of year!

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