The Common Holly is native to Britain, the milder areas of Europe and SW Asia. It is
immediately recognisable by its thorny, dark, glossy evergreen leaves.
It is dioecious, meaning it has separate male and female trees. In May the Common
Holly is covered with pale pink-white flowers. In November bright red berries are
produced on the female tree, which can last well into the following year, if they are
not eaten by birds and other animals. The berries are mildly toxic to humans and will
cause vomiting and diarrhoea if eaten. A mature Holly can grow to 20m but they are
often trimmed and kept as medium to large shrubs. The wood is white, hard-grained
and durable and was used to make tool handles and spinning rods. It stains well and
so was also used in the manufacture of chessmen.
Mythology and Folklore of the Holly
In Britain and much of Europe Holly is strongly associated with Christmas, and its
bright red berries make it an ideal Christmas decoration. There are many legends
associated with the Holly. In Celtic mythology the year is divided between the Holly
and the Oak Kings. The Holly King, Lord of the Winterwood, rules from midsummer
to the winter solstice, when he is overcome by his mortal enemy, the Oak King, Lord
of the Greenwood, who then rules from midwinter until the summer solstice.
In the past people believed that cutting down a holly could bring bad luck. Hollies
were associated with everlasting life and were thought to provide protection. For
this reason hollies were often left to grow untrimmed in hedges. Witches were also
believed to run along the tops of hedges, thus leaving the hollies protruding from the
hedge tops would stop them in their tracks.

Tree Trail. Stop 3: Common Holly