Holly is a Christmas staple.

BY THE BAY: A tradition of holly and ivy

Nature has many holiday connections, including with these two staples.

In older, simpler times, there was a popular English Christmas carol with a lilting tune, “the holly and the ivy.”

Like many such traditional folk songs arising from a rural, pre-literate culture, this carol connects the sights and sounds of nature with seasonal religious events.

For hundreds of years, holly was admired for its shiny dark green leaves and glowing red berries, making it the perfect decoration to bring into churches and homes to mark the Christmas season.

It had been considered sacred in earlier cultures, associated with the winter solstice ceremonies of druids and the Romans’ saturnalia festival, and in turn the holly and ivy carol links features of the plants with episodes from the Christian story.

The evergreen nature of both holly and ivy plants was once considered a sign of fortitude and resilience, in contrast to the many deciduous trees of Britain that lose their leaves in winter. Flocks of birds were seen to feed on holly berries and shelter within the tree’s prickle-leaved branches.

Some old texts liken holly and ivy to man and woman respectively, with holly showing mastery against the cold and ivy shivering around the door.

Ivy, with its dark berries, was considered a lesser plant, with one old song even claiming “none but the owlet” was found in its branches.

The English holly and ivy of the carol are not native plants in Western Canada, but were brought here at some point in history and have thrived in the mild coastal climates. Unfortunately, some have thrived too well, and both are now considered non-welcome, invasive plants.

Holly berries are relished by birds such as American robins, which eat the fleshy drupe and pass the seeds in their droppings, propagating the holly in forest understorey and shading out native plants.

English ivy sends out dozens of long, flowerless stems that trail on the ground and clamber up tree trunks and fences, rapidly smothering everything around it. Once mature, ivy develops into a bushy shrub with small white flowers, and, contrary to the old song, its black, clustered berries are eaten by thrushes, starlings, and other birds.

Both holly and ivy berries are poisonous for humans.

English holly and ivy should not be grown in gardens or sold in nurseries. Alternative decorative plants include native ferns, salal, kinnikinnick, Oregon grape, western honeysuckle, evergreen huckleberry, common snowberry, Pacific waxmyrtle, and non-native but non-invasive skimmia and American hollies.

Anne Murray, the author of two nature books available in local book stores, writes monthly in the Peace Arch News – www.natureguidesbc.com

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cloverdale man turns old bed racer into chicken coop

Clayton Heights’ Aaron Grim says repurposed racer ‘easy to clean and easy to collect the eggs’

U-Haul truck hits hydro pole, causes power outage in Surrey

Vehicle driving westbound on Fraser Highway

Two-vehicle crash leads to argument in South Surrey

Police investigating after one driver left the scene

Fire truck, police car hit in chain of crashes on Hwy. 99 in South Surrey

‘People weren’t paying attention,’ says Surrey assistant fire chief

Truck fire in Surrey destroys generator bound for Uganda missions trip, GoFundMe started

Glen Alexander says his ‘Jesus is Lord’ vehicle has been target of vandalism before

Horgan cancels event in northern B.C. due to security concerns, says Fraser Lake mayor

The premier will still be visiting the city, but the location and day will not be made public

B.C. landlord sentenced to two years in jail for torching his own rental property

Wei Li was convicted of intentionally lighting his rental property on fire in October 2017

VIDEO: Highway 1 left looking like winter war zone with dozens of stranded vehicles

Tow-truck driver says 30 vehicles still dot snowy landscape, including one rolled-over dairy truck

PHOTOS: Eastern Newfoundland reeling, search underway for missing man after blizzard

More than 70 centimetres of new snow fell overnight, creating whiteout conditions

Prince Harry, Meghan to give up ‘royal highness’ titles

‘Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,’ says Queen Elizabeth II

Canada Post driver in hospital after ice smashes windshield at Massey Tunnel

Incident happened on Richmond side of the Massey Tunnel

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

Calls for dialogue as Coastal GasLink pipeline polarizes some in northern B.C.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast

Most Read

l -->