Nature on our doorsteps: Evergreen and holly at Christmas…

Nature on our doorsteps: Evergreen and holly at Christmas…

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin county Council, every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures.

The two native plants that we perhaps most associate with Christmas are the evergreen holly and ivy. Images of holly’s bright red berries and glossy, prickly, leaves often include the robin, while the dark green leaves of ivy form the basis of many a Christmas wreath or garland.

Both plants are also important for wildlife. Holly berries are loved by thrushes and blackbirds and by migrating redwings and fieldfares in colder winters.

nature collage december 22

Then, when all other hedgerow berries are gone, purple ivy berries will fill the hungry gap in early springtime until the weather warms up.

The prickly nature of holly bushes and the dense, heavy growth of ivy also make them excellent nesting sites for blackbirds and robins.

Both plants are also linked ecologically by the dainty Holly Blue butterfly.

This butterfly lays its eggs on holly in early springtime. The caterpillars feed on its flowers and buds and when they transform into butterflies in early summer, a second generation of Holly Blues follow.

This time around, however, the second brood of eggs are laid on ivy instead.

In Irish folklore, holly is listed as one of the ‘noble’ trees and was referred to as ‘tinne’, meaning ‘iron bar’, reflecting perhaps the very dense, strong nature of its wood.