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Native Tree



Ilex aquifolium



The evergreen holly is a native species which forms the shrub layer in some of our oldest woods. You may look for it in woodland, or in the narrow gullies of the Sperrins or Donegal uplands, where holly and rowan can survive the harsh upland conditions.

It is another visually attractive small tree very suitable for gardens as a specimen tree or as a hedge, slow growing and very dense.

Holly trees are either male or female – only the female can bear berries, so it is always worth planting several holly trees together. Both sexes bear small creamy flowers.

Although they drop their spiny leaves all the year round, especially in the heat of summer, they are green all year, and along with ivy were traditionally used for midwinter or Christmas decorations, as a sign of green life to come.

In some areas it is considered unlucky to cut down holly, and it may be left as standards along a hedgerow. The hard pale wood is valued for wood carving.


Collect berries anytime over the winter (use tough gloves) from trees in wild woods.


It is difficult to remove the flesh from holly berries. They should be stratified in damp sand and kept in a cool place for a year and sown in the second spring.


After a full year of stratification, sow thinly in rows 15 - 20 cm apart and cover to protect from mice and birds. The following year transplant and grow for a further 1-2 years before setting out in a permanent site. If seeds are sown without stratification, they may take 2 - 3 years to germinate. Even with stratification, germination can be erratic. The young plants do not transplant happily, so there is a case for growing them from seed on their final growing site, or in pots after their first year.
It is possible to take cuttings from holly. A small side shoot about 15 cm with the 'heel' where it joins the main branch should be selected and grown in a suitable sand/loam mix.
September is the best time to take cuttings, which are best grown under shelter. Seedlings or cuttings should be moved once they are well established (but under 20cm tall) and when the soil is warm. They both need to be protected from frost damage. They are also at risk from grazing livestock. Although spiny, holly is liked by most farm animals.

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