“The Holly and the Ivy” revisited

Like it or not, the season of holiday music has arrived. From radio stations to mall loudspeakers, we’re urged to deck the halls, gather around the Christmas tree, and roast chestnuts (no easy feat, considering that most American chestnuts were wiped out by the great chestnut blight of the early 1900s). While I rarely hear my favorite carol, “The Holly and the Ivy,” on the radio, its plant-based title provides a timely lesson in native vs. non-native species.

The carol undoubtedly refers to English holly, but it is with native American holly, or Ilex opaca, that most of us deck our halls. Much beloved during the holiday season for its glossy evergreen leaves and shiny red berrries, American holly is also appreciated by local wildlife. Deer and squirrel enjoy the fruit, as do at least eighteen species of birds, including cedar waxwing, wild turkey, bobwhite, and American goldfinch.


ilex opaca

Ilex opaca


The ivy that so many of us are familiar with in our gardens, on our trees, and even climbing up our walls is English ivy, or Hedera helix. As its common name suggests, English ivy was brought to our country by European settlers and is not native to the Americas. English ivy is an invasive non-native species, rapidly overtaking trees, borders, and hedges if not kept in check. Although some native birds eat the berries, the fruit of Hedera helix is preferred primarily by European starlings and has little value to native North American animals.

Holly and ivy aside, native animals are sure to enjoy the treats hung from the branches of the Arboretum’s wildlife tree, which will be on display at the Visitor’s Center from December 5 through the end of the month.


2013 wildlife tree

The Arboretum’s 2013 Wildlife Tree


Catch a glimpse of the squirrels, jays, sparrows, and chickadees that feed from this tree when you attend the Arboretum’s Holiday Wreath Sale this Saturday, December 6.


_ASR8350 Wreath display board with Mary Jo


Or sign up to attend the December 13 Candlelit Caroling Celebration, where I will be on hand to join in singing my favorite holiday song.


Candlelit Caroling

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator


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