AQUIFOLIACEAE, The Holly family
Out my studio window I can see the top of a tall holly tree with red berries. As lovely as they are, they can spread seeds via bird mail, insinuating themselves in the forests. Native to Europe and Britain, they were brought to North America as ornamentals and are considered invasive in some areas. They are still widely sold and used as hedges and specimen plants in the Northwest. Many varieties are available, with glossy green, gold and white variegated leaves. Some have very sharp points on the leaves, others are smooth. They are dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate plants,) and usually both sexes need to be planted within 100 feet or so of each other to produce a good show of berries on the female plant. The different cultivars vary in size, but generally can grow (slowly) 20 to 40 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide. English holly does fine in sun or partial shade and needs acidic soil. A good time to prune hollies is before the winter holidays, then use the clippings for decorations. Holly is traditionally a symbol of protection from evil. The berries are poisonous.