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Wellington Fields Allotments - Hixon.


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By Mrs FM

Unusual & Old
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Alan J Hartley



Tree Project.

Holly – Ilex Aquifolium.

Holly bushes and trees are of course widespread and native to the UK with well over 500 known species. Most are evergreen with tough, leathery leaves, but a few are deciduous and typically Hollies grow to between 30 and 50 feet easily living up to 100 years with one specimen said to be 600 years old.
Generally, Hollies are fairly slow growing with a few dwarf varieties only growing inches a year to no more than a few feet. Because of their dens habit and prickly leaves they are often used to make impenetrable hedges in fields to keep in livestock and in gardens to make secure boundaries.
Holly Trees will re-grow from bare, stunted trunks after being felled and can be pollarded to make them an ornamental “Lollipop,” shape. Indeed they can be clipped very tightly as hedges and can even be used for Topiary to make artistic green shapes in the Garden.
Most varieties of Holly are prickly but it is interesting to note that the higher you go into a Holly Tree the less prickly the leaves are. This is probably because the prickles were created as a defence mechanism against browsing animals eating them and therefore there was no need to have prickles on higher leaves. Indeed, Deer will eat most things, but they won’t eat the bitter Holly Leaves. With so many types of Holly there are many variations in leaf types from the extremely prickly Ferox, or Hedgehog Holly, to the non prickly and small, Ilex Vomitora, or Yaupon Holly. This Holly is of particular interest, because it is one of the few plants that contains a useable source of Caffeine. Native American tribes were said to brew the leaves to make themselves a type of drink.
Although Hollies themselves are easy to grow it is difficult to grow any other plants underneath them, because their tough leaves don’t easily rot and kill most foliage growing underneath.

Of course Hollies are well known for their Berries that are produced after they flower. Male and Female flowers are borne on separate Trees so to get Berries you need to have trees of both sexes present. The flowers are very alike on both male and female plants making them difficult to sex. Indeed even the experts make mistakes sometimes, because when the silver variegated Holly variety of Silver Queen was named it was not realised that it was a Male plant and the golden variegated plant Golden King was in fact a Female plant!
The Berries of most Hollies are usually red although they can be yellow as in Aquifolium Bacciflava.
Wildlife of all sorts love to eat the berries and it is relatively easy to germinate the seeds that they contain. However, Berries need to be chilled over-winter to get them to germinate. This process is called stratifying, or sometimes vernalisation.

Traditionally Holly has been used to make Christmas decorations including Wreaths, Garlands, Swags and even table decorations that will last for weeks outdoors. This tradition has been going on for centuries, going right back to the times of the Druids, Celts and Romans who thought that the green winter holly had magical qualities and would bring back spring.
Holly has long traditions in Christianity as well because it was used to symbolise Christ's crown of thorns. The red berries represented Christ’s blood and the long lasting green of the leaves showed life after death.



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