December 2009

Holly

There are hundreds of Holly species,

known to botanists as varieties of Ilex, though many are sadly now extinct. The bright glossy evergreen leaves and red berries we associate so very closely with winter seasonal holidays, whether Christmas or the Winter Solstice, are most likes either English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) or the native to North America, American Holly (Ilex opaca). The Holly, like its Ilex cousins, is a dioecious plant. That means that the male and female reproductive organs are on separate individual plants; there are male plants, and female plants. A single male plant is sufficient to pollinate several female plants; generally one within thirty to forty feet is enough for the female plant to be pollinated, and bear the bright scarlet berries we expect.

The Poinsettia

The bright red blossoms and attractive green leaves of the poinsettia plant have become almost as closely associated with Christmas as the holly plant and the evergreen

conifer. Technically known as Euphorbia pulcherrima, the poinsettia is a native plant of Mexico, introduced to the U.S. in 1828 by the first American Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Robers Poinsett; as a botanist, Poinsett was fascinated by the plant's botanical oddities as well as its striking appearance and seasonal bloom. In its native tropical habitat the poinsettia is a low-growing skimpy-looking bush. The brilliant red blossoms (which can also be striated, pink white or pale green) are actually merely leaves lacking in chlorophyll. The actual flowers are the small yellow clusters hidden beneath the leaves.