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ORRIN MORRIS: A favorite Christmas decoration, American Holly blooms in the summer

AMERICAN HOLLY

Ilex opacaAmerican holly blooms in early summer, yet its fall colors have long been associated with Christmas as a traditional decoration.

There are many varieties of holly used for shrubbery and sound barriers in this region.

In recent years, the more thorny varieties of this evergreen are placed around houses for security where peeping Toms and burglars might lurk.

However, the American holly, native to the Eastern United States, has less spiny leaves. It is somewhat in decline due to the bulldozing associated with suburban sprawl. As a result, several states have enforced protective laws because this variety has been so extensively ravaged.

American holly is a favorite attraction for bees in summer. The greenish-white flowers are not very attractive aesthetically, but the fragrance is strong.

Holly blooms are either male with stamens producing pollen or female with a pistil that produces the fruit.

Many wildflowers have blooms that are complete; that is, they contain both stamens and a pistil. Not so with the Holly. Thus the bees are essential to fertilization and production of the bright red berries, the real glory of the American holly.

In medicinal lore, the leaves were crushed and the juice used as a purgative and diuretic. A caution is in order: the red berries are toxic and especially dangerous to young children, according to John Lust in "The Herb Book."

American holly has been a traditional decoration at Christmastime and its contrasting green and red have become the colors of the season.

The red of the berries has become a Christian symbol with many meanings: red is a reminder of earthly life because "the life is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11); it is a reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary (Matthew 26:28); and the color denotes warmth, which reminds us of the love God has for all of us, a love so great that He sent His only Son to live among us and to give His life for our salvation (John 3:17).

The green of the Holly leaves is a reminder of eternal life as promised by Jesus (John 3:16).

The thorns on the outer margin of the leaves remind us of the crown of thorns Jesus was made to wear on the cross (Mark 15:17).

May your faith in God's love grow deeper through moments of contemplation and meditation throughout this Christmas season.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers.