American Holly – Flowers

(Ilex opaca)

Flowers—Very small, greenish or yellowish white, from 3 to 10 staminate ones in a short cyme ; fertile flowers usually solitary, scattered. Stem : A small tree of very slow growth, rarely attaining any great height. Leaves : Evergreen, thick, rigid, glossy, elliptical, scalloped edged, spiny-tipped. Fruit: Round, red berries.

Preferred Habitat—Moist woods and thickets.

Flowering Season—April—June.

Distribution—Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, west to Texas, chiefly near the coast and south of New York.

Happily we continue to borrow all the beautiful Old World associations, poetical and legendary, that cluster about the holly at Christmas time, although our native tree furnishes most of our holiday decorations. So far back as Pliny’s day, the European holly had all manner of supernatural qualities attributed to it : its insignificant little flowers caused water to freeze, he tells us ; be-cause it was believed to repel lightning, the Romans planted it near their houses ; and a branch of it thrown after any refractory animal, even if it did not hit him, would subdue him instantly, and cause him to lie down meekly beside the stick! Can it be that the Italian peasants, who still believe cattle kneel in their stalls at midnight on the anniversary of Jesus’ birth, decorate the mangers on Christmas eve with holly, among other plants, because of a survival f this old pagan notion about its subduing effect on animals?

Would that the beautiful holly of English gardens (I. Aquifolium), more glossy and spiny of leaf and redder of berry than our own, might live here ; but it is too tender to withstand New England winters, and the hot, dry summers farther south soon prove fatal. Ilex was the ancient name, not of these plants, but of the holly oak.

The Mountain Holly (Ilicioides mucronata)—Nemopanthes Canadensis of Gray—a shrub of the northern swamps, about six feet high, and by no means confined to mountainous regions, since it is also abundant in the middle West, has smooth-edged, elliptic, petioled leaves, ash-colored bark, small, solitary, narrow-petalled staminate and pistillate flowers on long, threadlike pedicels from the leaf-axils in May. In August dull pale-red berries appear. Darwin proved that seed set with the help of pollen brought from distinct plants produces offspring that vanquishes the offspring of seed set with pollen brought from another flower on the same plant in the struggle for existence. Thus we see, in very many ambitious plants besides those of the holly tribe, a tendency to separate the male and the female flowers as widely as possible.