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Thorny Holly

Holly bushes make excellent last minute holiday gifts!

A Christmas card from the 1880s depicting holly and mistletoe.

Botanical imagery has been used since ancient times. In the middle ages flowers were especially important as religious symbols. Chaucer and later Shakespeare frequently used botanical imagery in poetry, and many ancient images still persist today.

For example, we feel lucky if we find a four-leaf clover, and we still send red roses to express our love. We also decorate during the holidays using holly, with its lustrous red berries that brighten our homes when our gardens are bereft of flowers.

The hardy holly plant remains a glossy green all through winter and has traditionally been associated with strength, eternity and aggression. The druids used it to ward off evil spirits.

The shape of the spiny leaves and its sturdy branches can cause pain when they come into contact with skin. Thus the plant has been associated for centuries with aggression and combativeness.

Its hardiness and year-round good looks contribute to its association with eternity. However, in modern times we see it as a festive plant that is favored because it looks so decorative, and it is not associated with any specific religion. It has an insignificant flower, but it is a natural and versatile holiday decoration.

Winterberry holly is a deciduous holly with tiny white flowers that mature into clusters of red berries (Ilex verticillata). Evergreen hollies such as Ilex crenata and Ilex glabra have shiny evergreen leaves and red berries and plants are available in a variety of sizes.

To make an inexpensive centerpiece:

  • Fill a shallow bowl and place oasis foam in it.
  • Cut four-inch pieces of holly and insert so that the oasis is covered.
  • Then purchase about five red carnations and cut the stems to four inches.
  • Insert the flowers into the oasis, nestling them between the holly leaves.

(Not all hollies have thorny leaves so choose a soft-leaved variety for arrangements.)

Holly bushes are available at mail-order nurseries that will mail plants at the appropriate planting time for your area. Holly bushes make excellent last minute holiday gifts!

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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