Holly

©Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Holly

Scientific name: Ilex aquifolium
Holly is a much-loved evergreen tree - its shiny, spiky leaves and bright red berries being a favourite in Christmas decorations. Found in all kinds of habitats, it provides an important winter food source for birds.

Species information

Statistics

Height: up to 15m

Conservation status

Common.

When to see

January to December

About

Holly is one of our most familiar evergreen trees, its bright red berries and glossy leaves bringing colour and life into our gardens and homes in winter, particularly at Christmas (the berries and thorny leaves are said to symbolise Jesus's blood on the crown of thorns). Our wildlife enjoys Holly, too: the berries are an important food source for many birds like Redwings and Fieldfares; indeed, Mistle Thrushes guard their own berry-laden bushes with such voracity that they'll chase off any potential thieves. Holly can be found in a variety of habitats, from remote woodland to urban gardens.

How to identify

Holly is easily recognised by its combination of dark green, spiny, evergreen leaves and small, bright red berries.

Distribution

Widespread.

Did you know?

Over 2,000 years ago, the Celts believed that two twins, the Holly King and the Oak King, became rooted in a terrible battle to rule the woodland. Legend has it that, in summer, the Oak King was in full leaf and the rest of the wood bowed to his extreme strength. But his leaves began to drop from his bows and the Holly King seized his chance to rule the wintry wood with his evergreen leaves and red berries.

How people can help

Our native tree species provide important links in the food chain for many animals, as well as areas for shelter and nesting. The Wildlife Trusts recognise the importance of healthy habitats to support all kinds of species throughout the food chain, so look after many nature reserves for the benefit of wildlife. You can help too: volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust and you could be involved in everything from coppicing to craft-making, stockwatching to surveying.