Identifiying a Holly
A full grown tree can reach a height of 15m and can live for over 250 years. It has smooth, thin bark which has many small warts that are brown in colour, with darker brown stems.
The dark green leaves are oval shaped and glossy. Young trees have very spikey leaves. As the leaves mature they lose their spikiness and become smoother. They are also much more likely to be smooth in the upmost parts of the tree.
Holly trees have a dioecious reproductive system; this means that the male and the female flowers are found on separate trees. The white flowers have four petals and develop into scarlet berries once they have been pollinated; these can stay and remain on the tree during winter and throughout.
Interesting fact: the holly berries are guarded by mistle thrush during the winter, stopping other birds from eating them
Significance to Wildlife
Because holly tree foliage is so dense, they provide optimal nesting prospects for birds and the dry leafs under the tree provide shelter for hedgehogs and other small mammals.
Pollinating insects such as bees use the flowers to collect pollen and nectar. There are numerous caterpillars from butterfly and moths that eat the foliage, such as the holly blue butterfly, as well as the double-striped pug, holly tortrix, yellow barred brindle. Deer may also eat the leaves at the top of the plant since they are usually smooth there; it is mainly for a winter source of food.
Birds will eat the berries and they can also be an important source of food in the winter but they may be eaten by dormice and wood mice.
How we use holly
Holly timber is very white and heavy with a tough and fine grain texture. It has many uses but works particularly well for making furniture and for use in engraving work; it is usually stained and polishes up well. The wood burns extremely well and is often used for firewood. You will often find the wood is used for making walking sticks as well.
We still use holly branches to decorate our homes with wreaths during Christmas.
There are a few pests and diseases affecting the Holly tree including holly leaf miner which causes extensive damage to the leaves and quite often defoliation. They are also susceptible to dieback caused by holly leaf blight.