The holly of Europe–the kind we use for Christmas decorations–has shiny green leaves, scalloped on the edges with each tip ending in a lethal point. Well, maybe not lethal, but the tips of holly leaves are as sharp as thorns.
A wild shrub known as Michigan Holly grows in Wisconsin, but its leaves fall off in winter. The holly from Europe is an evergreen. Early inhabitants of British Isles thought holly was magical because it stayed green during the dark days of winter. Obviously, holly had power over darkness and evil. So these pagans made circles of holly and put them on their doors to keep witches (and tax collectors) away.
When Christian missionaries came to England, they tried outlaw holly wreathes. But people were too frightened of witches to give up the practice so using the Old English equivalent of “No way!” , they kept right on using holly.
So the priests got clever. They explained that even at Christmastime, believers remember the Crucifixion and that holly wreathes represented the crown of thorns. The bright red berries were supposed to symbolize Christ’s blood. The priests were happy. The people were happy. And everybody kept making wreathes out of green and red plants. Green and red became Christmas colors and we still use holly.
But back to the point, or should I say points, the spiny leaves protect holly from foraging animals (with the exception of desperately hungry rabbits.) At the same time, the plants must attract birds to scatter the seeds. And what shows up against Christmas green better than red holly berries?
Colorful holly plants are an excellent example of ways plants are adapted to attract some and discourage other forms of wildlife. On Thursday, December 10, at 10:00 Crossroads will offer a naturalist led hike called Berries! Free and open to the public, participants will enjoy observing the berries at Crossroads and will learn how berry-bearing plants have adapted to our climate.
Speaking of climate, last month the Climate Change Coalition presented the award-winning documentary Chasing Ice at Crossroads. This organization arranged for Crossroads to retain unlimited screening rights for this film, so we will be able to show it to the general public periodically and would happily present is for groups on request. This Friday at 2:00, we will present the program in the lecture hall of the Collins Learning Center for those who missed the first showing or for those who saw it and want to see it again.