Quintessential plant for this time of year the Holly (European Holly – Ilex aquifolium). Anyone exploring the Tintern Trails at the Abbey would have come across these large holly trees in the depths of the woods and among the hedgerows along the trails.
Fossils indicate that the common ancestor of the Ilex plants probably appeared 50 million years ago. Holly and Ivy have long been associated with this time of year. In pagan tradition holly representing male and ivy female. Holly is also thought to protect against evil spirits.
After the rise of Christianity holly is usually used to represent the crown of thorns and the berries the blood of Christ. Despite this latter symbolism and the closeness of the name to the word holy the entomology dates back much further through the Germanic, Franconian and Celtic languages to the proto-indo-european language base which approximately meant “prickly” which aptly describes the plant.
Holly’s prickly nature was taken advantage of in deer parks and the like to protect young trees which gives rise to names like Hollyoaks.And of course those Harry Potter fans out there will remember that Harry’s wand was made of holly.