The Holly and The Ivy

The Holly and The Ivy is one of my favorite Christmas tunes. This week the lyrics inspired me to learn more about holly.

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.

Like mistletoe, holly is a European Christmas tradition that easily transferred to North America.  In Europe they decorate with Ilex aquifolium. When the colonists arrived in Virginia they found an abundance of the very similar Ilex opaca.

Since ancient times holly has been associated with the winter solstice because it remains green all year.  Each evergreen leaf with its sharp spiky edges remains on the tree for two to three years and only falls in the spring when a new bud forces it off the branch.

The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower…

In Esther Allen’s photo you can see the holly’s white flowers which bloom in May and are pollinated by bees, wasps, ants and moths.  Hollies are dioecious — some trees are male, others are female.  Only the female trees bear fruit.

The holly bears a berry as red as any blood…

Holly berries stay on the trees in winter and are often eaten by birds.  Esther’s photo shows that uneaten berries can persist into spring alongside the flowers.

The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn…

The leaf edges are sharp.  No doubt about it.  I tested one with my finger.  Ow!

The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall…

This, I did not test.  I’ll take their word for it.


The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.

…a crown of thorns, greenery and red berries.  Very beautiful.


(photo by Esther Allen, remembered fondly this Christmas)

2 thoughts on “The Holly and The Ivy

  1. There are several native, deciduous hollies that grow in our area, most commonly winterberry (Ilex verticillata), usually found in wet or moist areas. Mountain holly (Ilex montana), grows in rocky, acidic woods in counties to our north, east and south. Inkberry (Ilex glabra), is sold in nurseries and planted around here, but is no longer found in wild areas, although it is believed to be native.

  2. The apartments are surrounded with holly bushes and holly trees here in Al. The berries are absolutely gorgeous right now!

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