Ilex (Holly)

For week 18 of the PBP.

Well over a ton and a half of lore exists around Ilex, or holly. In many ways, I feel like it’s more appropriate to writing about this prickly plant now, when its berries are gloriously red, than back in April when I had scheduled to do this prompt.

Hollies were always a big part of my life growing up. We had several in the back yard, one “pretty” one with glossy leaves, and one dull one with matte leaves. They were what led me to be reluctant to walk barefoot, as their sharp leaves were particularly vicious in the summers once they had been dried out.

Holly brought out the martyr in my mother each holiday season. She would insist on making the traditional holly wreath for the door herself—and she always refused to wear gloves. Her hands would be scraped and bleeding by the end of the process, but it was somehow all worth it for the neighbors’ comments on how lovely it was to see a real holly wreath. (Happily now she just puts some boughs in a basket on the front door, which gives her all of the color and little of the injury.)

Dad would use holly to help start the fireplace in the winter. According to one of the old English wood lore poems, “holly burns like wax.” The mantle was another place where we always put holly during the winter; Dad always claimed in the old days it kept evil spirits from coming down the chimney.

I personally associate holly with Mars and Fire, a fiercely protective plant. A holly wand is on my list to make, for both nostalgic and aesthetic reasons. It’s one wood that I particularly look forward to carving and polishing. With any luck I’ll be able to get some from my childhood bushes!

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