Today, Marj, my favorite botanist, waxes poetic about the magical holly:
“Holly” came from “holy,” or at least from the same source word. Here in eastern North America, we have several native species of holly, both evergreen and deciduous. The crowning species, the biggest tree, and the one we first think of when we say “holly,” is the prickly evergreen-leafed Ilex opaca, American holly, very similar to the English holly Ilex aquifolium. It has a very fine-grained white wood that’s good for things like inlays (some of which can be seen in the elegant woodwork of buildings in colonial Williamsburg).
Glossy dark green evergreen leaves, prickles, bright red berries, white wood, white flowers – it’s just made for all kinds of symbolism! Hollies are polygamodioecious, i.e. each tree is either male or female (“dioecious” meaning, “in two houses”) but there’s some leakage in the system (the “polygamo-” part) so that a male tree may have a few female flowers or vice versa.
Among the other native hollies are feverbark (the deciduous I. verticillata, also called winterberry, holding its red berries on its leafless branches through the winter), the prized honey sources inkberry (I. glabra) and gallberry (I. coriacea), and one of my favorites, used for tea and common on the barrier islands where they get sculpted by the salt winds, the wonderfully-named Ilex vomitoria.
Thank you, dear Marj!
Tomorrow, I’ll share some lore that features this ancient Green Ally.