The Holly tree is without doubt one of the most important of the English evergreens. In the midst of winter, when all the forest is barren and bare, save for the trunks of trees clothed in ivy, the Holly stands proud with its cheerful array of dark green leaves and bright red berries. Even in the bright days of summer when the forest is filled with greenery and growth, the holly can still be detected far of in the depths of the forest reflecting light from its now lighter and highly polished leaves. Although a welcome sight in any season, Holly is particularly associated with winter and the winter solstice. Since ancient times it has been cut at midwinter and used to adorn homes to honour the spirit of the wildwood and to bring lightness and beauty at the darkest time of the year.
Holly is a tough survivor often beginning its life in the shade of other trees and only getting moisture from the superfluous rain which has dripped from the overshadowing foliage of its more elevated companions. It will grow in almost any soil providing it is not too wet, but grows best in rich, sandy loam and when given the space can attain heights of up to fifty feet or more although usually it does not exceed thirty feet. In May the Holly bears small white flowers which in winter are succeeded by its brilliant berries. The same tree rarely produces abundant crops of flowers in consecutive years and consequently if you find a tree abundantly adorned with berries one winter, it will in all probability bear only a few the following winter.
With its sharp, prickly leaves the holly is equated with protection and warrior energy with spear shafts and clubs being made from its wood. Pliny, the Roman historian, tells us that it was believed that if it was planted by a house or farm, it would repel poison and that its flowers cause water to freeze. He also says that a staff of holly wood, if thrown at any animal, even if it falls short of its mark, has the magical property of compelling the animal to return and lie down by it. In the woods, holly will often grow as a bush around larger trees in a protective manner preventing both deer and humans from coming near. This is especially seen with some oak trees. Celtic myth speaks of the endless battle that is fought every year between the Oak King and the Holly King representing summer and winter respectively. The Holly King is born on the dawn of midsummer's day, the time when the power of the Oak King has reached its peak. During the autumn months the Holly King grows in power and strength whilst the energy of the Oak King wanes. On midwinter's eve the Holly King is crowned and honoured, but the very next day its power is already waning because midwinter's day announces the rebirth of the Oak King. So the epic battle once again gathers momentum towards the next midsummer.