Getting festive with the wilder side of Holly!

Red Wing on Holly - John Hawkins

If there is one plant that comes to mind this time of year it’s the lovely Holly tree. Its deep lush green leaves and bright red berries never fail to lighten the bleakness of winter. Here's a little seasonal insight into the humble Holly, penned by TNL Lauren Darn.

The native Holly tree has been part of winter celebrations in the UK for thousands of years.

Early Christians decorated their homes with holly to mimic pagan rituals during the Roman festival of Saturnalia, and later, holly berries filtered into christmas tradition as symbols of the blood of Christ.

Even before this British Druids decorated their homes with holly throughout winter in order to invite forest fairies inside to shelter from the icy weather. This practice may have begun with observations of insects using wild holly as shelter.

A mature tree can support a diverse range of wildlife; providing food and nectar for caterpillars, bees, deer, birds and mice, as well as a dry leafy habitat for small mammals. Holly can live for 300 years and a mature tree, standing at a potential 15 metres in height, provides dense nesting cover for birds.

If you have holly in your own garden it can be used at Christmas as a charming and sustainable decoration. Swapping plastic tinsel for biodegradable evergreen garlands is a choice which can benefit the environment by reducing plastic waste, but it must be gathered responsibly from your own tree, so that you don’t remove berries which are crucial to the survival of many birds over winter.

Fresh evergreen wreaths should last a month outdoors in cold weather, whereafter they can be placed on a compost heap. If you do choose to bring holly in to your home, be careful to place it away from children and family pets. Whilst the berries are an important food for birds, you wouldn't want to snack on them - they are toxic to humans.

Holly is often found growing in deciduous woodland, scrub and hedgerows and can be found widely across Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves.

Treat yourself and the family to a trip out and see what you spy enjoying the fruits of the Holly. How about Adel Dam in Leeds (as recently featured on the BBC's The One Show); Askham Bog in York; Sprotbrough Flash, Doncaster; or Stoneycliffe Wood near Wakefield.