(Ilex opaca) Holly family
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,
glossy, elliptical, scalloped edged, spiny-tipped. Fruit: Round,
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; because 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 of 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
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