Gardening in Langley: Festive plants not very friendly

  • Dec. 10, 2015 5:00 p.m.

Some traditional plants of Christmas are still very visible on cards and decorations but not so much in real life gardens. Large, healthy hollies covered with scarlet berries are still a spectacular sight in winter but many older ones are succumbing to the European holly blight.

As well, holly has few friends among those who seek to preserve our native plants by eliminating introduced ones that tend to out-compete them.

Another Christmas plant – ivy – also shoulders out native plants and its aggressive growth (though a friendly shelter for birds nests) often becomes the despair of gardeners and a major removal project.

Both are major colonizers of local woodlands because birds excrete the seeds of both after feeding on them in January when cold has softened and sweetened the berries.

But holly is popular with more wildlife than ivy is. Bears eat holly berries just prior to hibernation and when winter arrives, deer browse on the softer, newer holly leaves.

In history and legend, the European holly has an ancient and honourable lineage as a tree of the winter solstice. Druids were said to wear holly wreaths on their head. Christianity added its own symbolism that the berries represented drops of blood shed in the Crucifixion.

The berry of European holly is toxic but an extract of the less-toxic leaves is said to have been used traditionally for catarrah, pleurisy and smallpox. In other areas, holly is reputed to protect from lightning and evil spirits.

Worldwide there are hundreds of species. One of the most useful to people is the rainforest holly (Ilex paraguariensis) which is grown in South America. This makes the popular and delicious caffeine-laced tea Yerba Mate.

Among the many, many hybrids of the European holly are all kinds of leaf variations. “Porcupine holly” has spines on the leaf surface and edges in gold and silver variegations. There are also many leaf variegations in white and yellow blotches and margins. Variegated hollies are very sparse berriers.

In today’s gardens, there’s usually little space for full-size hollies. But the slow-growing ‘Blue Hollies’ don’t reach more than six feet and the females do produce berries. Male hollies never produce berries.

Another family member is the deciduous Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) which grows to 10 feet and is a mass of scarlet berries each winter. Native to Newfoundland, it’s extremely hardy.

Ivy is still easy to get in plant sales and some of the yellow and white marbled leaves are so pretty. But the very small-leaved varieties can be grown in planters. Once climbing ivy sucks onto anything, it’s almost impossible to remove.

As for mistletoe, the kind depicted on cards is the European kind that typically grows on apple trees or hawthorn. As with holly and ivy, mistletoe berries are eaten by birds and the seeds excreted onto tree branches.

Mistletoe is reputed to be very difficult when deliberately planted on branches from seed even in areas where it naturally grows wild. Because it’s a parasite that sucks liquid and food from its host, the tree it’s on tends to get sick.

 

Just Posted

River levels high but holding near Langley

The Fraser isn’t rising to danger levels yet.

54-40 headlines Aldergrove Fair Days

Free concerts series at 106th annual Fair Days, July 20-22

PHOTOS: Langley holds birthday bash for late Queen Victoria

Thousands came out Monday to celebrate May Day with a parade, pole dancing, and a party in the park.

Tyler O’Neill homers in three straight games

Slugger from Maple Ridge back in the Majors

VIDEO: AOK took Langley home and ‘made it amazing’

Volunteers did two weeks of repairs and retrofitting to make the Adam family house safe and livable.

VIDEO: Morgan Freeman to voice announcements on SkyTrain, buses

TransLink unveils new credit card feature ahead of busy tourist season

Woman’s death near Tofino prompts warning about ‘unpredictable’ ocean

Ann Wittenberg was visiting Tofino for her daughter Victoria Emon’s wedding

Will Taylor Swift’s high concert ticket prices stop scalpers?

Move by artist comes as B.C. looks to how to regulate scalpers and bots reselling concert tickets

36 fires sparked May long weekend, most due to lightning: BC Wildfire

As warmer weather nears, chief fire officer Kevin Skrepnek says too soon to forecast summer

Ariana Grande sends message of hope on anniversary of Manchester bombing

Prince William joins survivors and emergency workers for remembrance service

Fraser River “vulnerable” to any additional inflows: River Forecast Centre

Two dairy farms have already been relocated from evacuated areas

Pipeline more important than premiers meeting: Notley

“Canada has to work for all Canadians, that’s why we’re fighting for the pipeline”

Canadian government spending tens of millions on Facebook ads

From January 2016 to March 2018, feds spent more than $24.4 million on Facebook and Instagram ads

Richmond RCMP appeal for info after man allegedly gropes young girl

A 74-year-old man has been charged with sexual assault

Most Read