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The Science of Holly December 21, 2009

Posted by bsciencecenter in Uncategorized.
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American Holly is not only found as a bush, but it can grow as a tree up to a height of 100 ft.  It flourishes in moist woodland habitats from Maine to Florida and as far west as Texas.

Look at the holly twig, and you will notice that it has sharp points at the ends of each leaf.  This is to help prevent animals such as rabbits, horses, cattle and deer from feeding on it! This is an example of a Plant Defense!

The holly bush/tree is best known for its bright red berries (fruit) that mature in the fall.  These attractive berries are known to be poisonous to humans!  Eating them will most likely make you sick to your stomach.  However, they are not poisonous to birds.  Many songbirds feast on the berries throughout the winter months.

Holly twigs are commonly used in Christmas decorations for their vibrant green and red colors.

Holly wood is hard and white, close-grained and fine in texture. Once highly polished, it can be used for inlay work and carvings, and is strong enough for practical uses such as riding crops and walking sticks.  Boat builders also use it for inside flooring due to its strength.

Did you know?

There are male and female holly bushes!  Only the female bush produces the berries. However, you must have a male bush nearby in order to pollinate the female bush flowers.   If you decide to plant a holly bush in your yard, make certain that you buy both a male and female and plant them close to one another.

Two thousand years before holly became a traditional symbol of Christmas, the Romans treasured it as the sacred plant of their god Saturn. They believed holly warded off lightning strikes and witchcraft, and gave it, with small gifts attached, to each other at Saturnalia, the feast of Saturn. The Anglo-Saxons thought holly had mystical powers because it remained green throughout the winter.

Traditional weather forecasters swear by the sign that a greater number of berries on holly bushes in the autumn signify a severe winter to come.

Good Luck Symbol


The tradition of hanging a holly wreath on the door began during the 17th Century. Using branches of holly to decorate inside the home was thought to bring good luck. It was therefore used for wedding floral arrangements. Some superstitious householders hung holly on windows to ward off witches and evil spirits. Christians later adopted holly wreaths to decorate their front doors during the Christmas season.

Grow Holly at Home!

Holly bushes grow very well in Massachusetts and can be purchased at your local garden center.  Remember to buy both a male and female bush.  Planting them in your yard will not only help feed the birds, but provide your property with a little “green” color all year-round!

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