Nov 22 2021

Gault Wood woodland working group newsletter – The Holly & the Ivy

We all like to have holly & ivy around our homes at Christmas.  The tradition pre-dates Christmas being used to celebrate the Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia.  Iron and Bronze Age people possibly did something similar to celebrate the passing of the shortest day and the potential return of the sun from it’s winter rest.  The evergreen nature of both plants embodies life in the darkest days of winter.


Holly has always been associated with the Crown of Thorns placed on Jesus’ head when he was on the cross and the red berries represent holy blood.


Holly will grow almost anywhere and it is supposedly unlucky to cut down a holly tree.  The holly behaves like most flowering plants producing white flowers in spring and summer and generates berries in autumn.  A good crop of berries is not a portent for a cold winter but it actually shows that it was a good spring and summer.


Ivy has not always been regarded as trustworthy.  It’s ability to grow in complete shade and almost in the dark gave it a connection with the dark side.


Ivy grows vigorously in almost any conditions and the ability to cling to the smoothest surfaces makes it a symbol of rebirth and resilience.  Ivy is often accused of killing trees that it scales but the only harm it does is to make the tree top heavy so a little more likely to blow down in a gale.  Ivy, unlike most plants, produces it’s green flowers in autumn and winter and can attract pollinators on any sunny winter day.  Berries appear from January as a rule and are ripe for the birds just when there is the least amount of food available in the countryside.



It is said that mistletoe was sacred to both the Romans and Druids because of it’s ability to survive winter conditions while the trees it grows on have lost all their leaves. Kissing under the mistletoe is a fairly recent development from Victorian times.  Mistletoe a fairly uncommon parasite growing mostly on apple, poplar and lime trees.  It depends on the tree for all it’s needs but will not kill the tree, it just weakens it.  Birds eat the berries but do not want the seeds; some wipe the seeds onto a tree branch.  If the seed passes through the bird, it has a sticky substance around it that forces the bird to use a tree branch like toilet paper – not very romantic!


Seasonal greetings to everyone and best wishes for 2022

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