Yep, you guessed it! We couldn’t resist having Holly hand in hand with Ivy. Both these festive plants remain green in winter and they have long been used to decorate homes, even before the advent of Christianity. The plants were seen as fertility charms with holly representing the male and ivy the female. The Christmas carol ‘The Holly and the Ivy” refers to these old beliefs.
Wood from the holly tree is very pale in colour and has a dense, fine grain. It is prized by wood turners and often used to make quality walking sticks. It is also one of the traditional native woods used for Scottish bagpipes. Historically, holly was used as winter fodder for sheep and cattle, especially before the introduction of the turnip by Charles Townshend in the 18th century.
In ancient Rome, ivy was associated with the god of wine and revelry, Bacchus. It may be this association that led to the belief that ivy could neutralise the effects of alcohol if it was drunk from a goblet made from ivy wood. There are two native sub-species of ivy - Hedera helix ssp .helix and Hedera helix ssp. hibernica. Juvenile ivy has 3-5 lobes and a pale underside. The mature form has oval or heart shaped leaves. Only the mature form produces flowers. Ivy flowers are a very important source of nectar for many insects, often when no other source is available.
Have a great Christmas and New Year, the next instalment will be on 16th January.