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Ilex aquifoliumIlex aquifolium
English Holly
English holly has been planted around churches and houses in England since the 1600s to keep out witches and their spellwork and to protect against lightning strikes (this plant is connected to Thor). While some consider it bad luck to bring holly branches into the house before Yule, others select holly branches to make great wands. The wood is very white and hard and good for working in detail. The Holly King, basically the spirit of holly, was associated with the Winter Solstice and the waning of the year (as opposed to the Oak King of Summer Solstice); he appears in Arthurian legend as the Green Knight. Christians adopted holly decorations from Pagan winter celebrations like Saturnalia (Roman decked Saturn statues with holly sprigs) and of course, Yule. The prickly leaves of holly, which on a tree are especially prevalent on the lower branches to prevent grazing, are associated with men; the smooth leaves, which are higher up, are associated with women.Young women sometimes placed a sprig under the pillow to dream of their intended.  In folklore, a lot of berries on a holly means a hard winter to come. Naturally enough, holly is considered a Mars plant on account of its prickly leaves and its red berries (and I think because it was sometimes used to make weapons). Top

Ilex aquifolium seedsA European native, English holly has long been grown in hedges, because it can be browsed without harm but it also forms a spiny barrier to livestock. The small white flowers have a sweet scent and attract bees; birds love the berries after they have been sweetened by repeated frosts, and according to Thoreau, mice run up the branches at night, pick the berries, and eat their seeds at the door of their burrow (berries are not edible for people). Holly provides safe shelter for small birds and protection in harsh winter weather. This is an evergreen; individual leaves will fall off the tree after 2-3 years and take a long time to decay on the ground. It is the leaves that are referred to in herbal codes as "bats' wings." Holly is also known as holy tree, holm, holven, tinne, and Christ's thorn. Top

How to Grow English Holly
These seeds take their time germinating because they when they are shed from the fruit, the embryo inside the seed is not mature yet. It takes temperature fluctuation and time to allow them to grow inside the seed and eventually germinate. It's best to start them in the spring and then hope for germination the following spring. First, soak the seeds for 48 hours in cold fresh water in a jar in the fridge, changing the water every 12 hours. Fill a pot with a mix of peat and something coarse draining, like perlite or vermiculite or sand (not from the beach--too salty) and water. Then drain the seeds, sprinkle them over the moistened soil in the pot, and sprinkled dry potting medium over them and gently press in. Put the pot into a plastic bag and leave an opening as big around as your finger or just leave the top open and let it flop over. Put the pot in the bag outside against a north-facing wall or in a place that will have shade even when leaves are off the trees; an unheated shed works during the winter but in summer would be too hot. It's important that the sun not hit the pot because it will make it too hot for the seeds; think of how seeds germinate in the shade of their parents. Check the pot the following spring for germination and remove the plastic bag as soon as it starts. Make sure that rodents don't dig up the seeds. Transplant when they are one year old and grow on in pots until 2 years old, then put in the ground. Top

English holly grows very slowly and can live to 500 years and reach 30ft/9m but more usually lives 100 years and is a large shrub. It can be pruned--trimmings are great for Yule celebrations--and it can grow in most kinds of soil except marshy and in shade or sun. It's a good candidate for dappled shade or the edges of woodlands (and of course, hedges). It can handle growing near the sea and is okay with the pollution of industrialized areas; this is a tough plant. It's a perennial in zones 5-9 (temperate climate). Rabbits enjoy eating the bark, so if they are an issue in your yard, consider wrapping the lower parts of the stem with hardware cloth or something along those lines. Holly plants have gender, so you need more than one to get berries, and typically, the berries will appear only in alternate years. English holly is deemed a pest plant on the West Coast, so don't grow it there.
General growing info Top

Ilex aquifolium
English Holly
12 seeds $3.75

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Uses in Witchcraft & Magic:

Love Divination
Wand Making
Mars/Fire Herb

2014, 2017 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction without permission