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What is Holly?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2016
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Ilex or holly refers to over 500 different species of plants, though people may be most familiar with just a few of them. These varieties may be evergreen or deciduous and are grown throughout the world. Typically, people think of some of the characteristics of holly that make them recognizable, including red berries, and glossy, sharp leaves, which are usually a deep green color. While many Ilex species fit this characteristic, a few may have berries in different colors, and things like size and shape can vary significantly.

Holly can usually come in bush or tree form, and some species, like the American Holly can grow to be 50 feet tall (15.24 m). Others top out at about 4 to 6 feet (1.22 to 1.83 m) in height. Most plants, like the common holly, Ilex aquifolium, come in both male and female forms, which is called dioecious. If people are growing the shrubs or trees to produce berries, they need to plant female ones, and it may be necessary to plant a male plant too, in order to produce berries. Hollies tend to depend on pollination in order to produce fruit.

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One of the attractions to planting Ilex is that the fruits are enjoyed by many species of birds. Often the fruit is present in winter, and makes fantastic bird food for migrating species. Bird enthusiasts may thus attract birds by giving them fruit to eat, and the thick shrubs or trees can give excellent shelter in stormy weather. Despite the beauty of the often red fruit, it is not safe for human consumption and may cause mild toxicity to major poisoning. The red berries can be attractive to children, and kids should be taught that these are poisonous and ought to be avoided.

Ilex is often associated particularly with Christmas, and people may use the greens as part of floral decorations in homes, or to trim wreaths. Since many holly plants respond well to pruning, it’s certainly fine to remove some branches for this purpose during the winter months. Like many Christmas traditions, bringing holly or greens into the home far predates Christianity. Greenery in pre-Christian Europe was especially associated with fertility, the promise of rebirth in spring, and celebrations of the winter solstices. It was also believed to either repel spirits or to host friendly ones, and sometimes the boughs were used as divining rods.

In addition to symbolic uses for holly, there are many practical ones. Some species are made into teas, like Mate tea, favored in South America. Other people used species of Ilex in herbal medicine. Ilex vomitoria, with its unfortunate name, was used as an emetic by some Native American groups.

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anon133306
Post 3

Prune anytime of the year but only as needed. Avoid box shapes.

Flywheel1
Post 2

Oh by gosh, by golly. You have to ask, "What is holly?"

anon72099
Post 1

when do you trim a dwarf burford holly (iiex cornuta burfordi)? nana

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