Winter online exhibition
Latin name Ilex aquifolium
Holly is an evergreen shrub which grows in woods and hedgerows. Its leaves are glossy and leathery, with sharp spined edges and it produces distinctive red shiny berries from mid-October through to February.
Christian symbolism connects the prickly leaves with the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries represent Christ’s blood. However, holly has been associated with winter in pre-Christian celebrations. It was brought into the house to protect it from evil. Its shiny leaves and berries, reflecting light, brought light into the dark Yule.
The Holly King of Celtic mythology ruled for half a year from summer to the winter solstice (the Oak King ruled for the remainder). Mummers’ plays, traditionally performed at yuletide, depicts the Holly King as a giant man covered in holly branches, wielding a holly bush.
The images here show a herbarium sheet of holly from the British and Irish herbarium, and a print from the prints and drawings collection of the botany section at World Museum. These collections are a valuable resource for the identification and study of plant biodiversity past, present and future.
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