The Birth Flower of December: Holly
Holly is synonymous with December and all things festive but did you ever wonder how it came to be such an important part of the Christmas tradition?
In fact, people have been using Holly to decorate their homes in wintertime for thousands of years, and long before the celebration of Christmas. The spiny leaves and red berries were an important part of the pagan winter solstice celebrated in Northern Europe.
They also played a key role in the rituals of the Saturnalia festival which was celebrated by the Romans at the same time of year.
Although holly berries are not edible by humans and most pets (they contain a mildly toxic compound called theobromine), they are an important winter food source for birds in winter, especially the Robin; another Christmas celebrity.
When you think of Holly, you probably imagine the typical Christmas type with its variegated dark green leaves and red reindeer-nose berries, but there are actually more than 400 varieties of this plant.
They grow all over the world from the coolest to the warmest regions. There are even holly varieties with blueberries. Lots of superstition and legend surrounds this plant. In the past, people believed that a holly bush would protect you from being struck by lightning and that cutting down holly could bring bad luck. Funnily enough, they weren’t completely wrong.
The spines on holly leaves actually act like tiny lightning conductors and they can protect the trees around them from lightning strikes.
Colors and Symbolism
Holly is the birth flower for people who are born in December and there are many Christian associations with the plant and flower.
The red color of the berries is thought to symbolize the wounds that Jesus Christ made on the cross and the sacrifice that he made for mankind.
But even before Christianity, the Holly plant was symbolic. Celtic people associated it with good luck and protection and chieftains wore Holly wreaths to guide them in ruling and bring good fortune.
- Holly is a popular first name for girls born in December.
- In South America, the leaves of the plant are used to make a tea called Maté.
- The wood of the holly tree is also often used to make the black keys on the piano.
- In ancient times, many people believed that a bough of holly could protect against witchcraft and newborn babies were often bathed in water from the bough to ward off evil.
How to Grow and Care for Holly
Holly plants should be planted in a sunny location in your garden in springtime.
Holly needs both a male and a female plant in order to produce berries. This problem can be solved by grafting a male and a female together and many commercial garden centers will sell the plant in this form.
Holly needs very little maintenance and you don’t need to water it except during very long dry periods. Your plant should produce berries in 2 – 3 years.