The Red and Green of Holly fits the Season
Les Harrison is the Wakulla County Extension Director.
The official start of winter 2015-16 is about three weeks away, and followed closely by Christmas.
Santa is ever present in the minds of Wakulla County’s youth and their parents who will be financially supporting the seasonal elf with his deliveries.
The retail establishments, large and small, have long since gotten into the holiday stance. All have decked the hall with boughs of holly, and merchandise for all ages.
Hollies have set the color scheme for this season of giving and receiving as much of the forest and landscape assumes a subdued tone.
Much like the celebrants, the native holly species provide for those in need.
Ilex, as holly is known scientifically, is a genus of about 600 different members worldwide. They can be an evergreen tree or shrub and are commonly used in landscapes.
They are easily recognized by their glossy leaves which may have one or more sharp spines on the edges. While their late spring flowers are likely to attract honeybees and other pollinators, they are rarely noticed by others.
The product of those blooms stand in stark contrast to the remainder of the plant and helps set the color pallet for the holiday season. The red to orange-red berries are abundant and are emblematic of the genus and the season.
While there are many holly species which have been introduced for landscaping purposed, there are several which have been in Wakulla County long before humans arrived. One prolific berry producer is the Yaupon or ilex vomitoria.
This holly has a relatively limited range in Gulf Coast states and a thin foothold north to Virginia. Where it occurs naturally, it is an aggressive colonizer and sometimes considered a pest species.
The plant prefers sandy, well drained soils and does not require much care. It is shade tolerant, but will easily handle full sun.
The brilliant red pea-sized berries are a favorite of birds, who in turn, are responsible for spreading undigested seed.
The vigor of this native seed allows them to germinate and flourish in a variety of environments.
Nurseries and plant breeders have taken the best features of Yaupon holly and developed named cultivars with specific traits. These selectively bred plants can be found in many local nurseries.
In addition to landscaping uses, this holly is the basis for a beverage.
When European explorers and settlers arrived, they observed the indigenous people using the leaves to brew a drink.
Originally the concoction was used for ceremonial purposes, but has transitioned into a specialty drink today. There are currently commercial firms which produce this unique potion.
Another native holly with an even more limited range is the Dahoon Holly. With the exception of the Florida peninsula, it is limited to coastal areas in the southeastern U.S.
However, there are other plants possessing green leaves and currently producing red berries tantalizing and attractive to birds. Some of these are considered a localized pest, while others are truly exotic invasive plants.
Knowing the difference can simplify the holidays, and the remainder of the year.
After all, Santa appreciates good environmental stewardship too.