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  • Sara Thompson

Jolly Holly Plants

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Green, shiny, spiky leaves, and bright red berries
Holly plants sporting rich green leaves and bright red fruits. Photo by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner, obtained from Wikimedia Commons

Holly is a common decoration during the winter holidays. It is recognized by its pointy, green leaves and bright, red berries. Holly is part of the genus Ilex, which includes over 550 species of plants. It is a diverse plant that has species that range from sea level all the way up to 6500 feet in the mountains. The plant can be found in the tropic, subtropic, and temperate regions. The greatest diversity of holly plants are found in the Americas and Southeast Asia.

Holly leaves have a waxy texture which help them survive well into the colder, winter months. While most plants and trees are losing leaves and going dormant, holly remains green with bright, red fruit. Holly leaves come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The common decorative plant has several spines on the leaves, helping to be a deterrent to grazing. This makes it a popular hide for small birds, trying to seek shelter from a predator the elements.

The leaves are not the only attractive aspects of the holly plant for birds. The bright red fruit is a food source for them during the scarcity of winter. Often called ‘berries’, the fruit of holly is actually a drupe. The holly fruit contains a strong structure at the center, protected by the outer flesh, with up to ten seeds being stored inside. By eating the fruit, birds are integral to the seed dispersal of the plant. Despite their importance to the plant’s survival, birds can only eat a few fruits at a time, or they will succumb to the fruit’s toxicity. The holly fruit will ripen and redden early in the fall, but it takes a few freezes and frosts to soften and break down the toxins.

Both the leaves and fruit of the holly plant can cause vomiting in both pets and people and is especially dangerous to children. Despite its toxic nature, holly is still a popular decoration. Because of its ability to stay green, it was a symbol of resistance and of the promise of spring. Thought to bring good luck and protection to families centuries ago, this tradition continues on today with this beautiful plant that says bright and colorful even through the coldest and dreariest seasons.

Keep your family busy during winter break by visiting Explorit during our public hours. Visitors welcome Fridays from 1-4pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-2pm. Admission is $5 per person. Explorit Members, ASTC, and those ages 2 and under free. Explorit will be Closed December 25 and January 1.


Explorit's coming events:

• Give the gift of science to a family this holiday season! A gift Membership to Explorit not only supports us but grants the recipient free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer camps and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. Any level of Membership is eligible as a gift for someone. To purchase or for more information visit or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.

• Like many small businesses the closures have had a significant impact on our income and sustainability. Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow:


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