Appalachia Christmas Pap Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Christmas Holly


Christmas Holly

Holly trees and their bright red berries have long been associated with Christmas. From songs to decorations-holly is all over Christmas. The woods surrounding my mountain holler are chock full of holly trees.

For years The Deer Hunter has told me the biggest holly tree he’s ever seen is up the creek in the Tom Cove. I’ve always meant to get him to take me to see it, but somehow we never seem to get around to it or don’t think of it when were out and about in the woods in that area. I wonder if it’s still there.

A few years ago I told you about three of my favorite holly trees:

There are three holly trees on my road that never fail to catch my eye during the holiday season. Each tree is only a hop skip and a jump from the other. In fact as I write this I do believe you could draw a diagonal line between the three and it would be fairly straight.

The first tree is in the yard of the first house on my road a big white farm house, by far the oldest house on my road. I’ve known the folks who live there my entire life. First the elder couple, then their grandson, and now their great grandson. As I think upon where the holly trees grow, I wonder if the first tree was left by chance or if Clarence and Ruby, the elder couple, loved the red berries as much as I do and made sure the tree grew unhindered.

The second holly tree is just up the road, but out in the pasture. A little set of woods that breaks up the large pasture is home to that very large holly tree.

The third holly tree is a little further up the road around the curve. It’s not as large as the first two trees and it grows just outside the fence-all close up to the barb wire like it wishes it was in the pasture too.

Two of those three holly trees have disappeared since I first told you about them and there are new folks living in the old white farmhouse-folks I’ve never met, but hope to someday.

The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English talks about he holly and she holly.

he holly noun The male of the American holly tree (Ilex opaca), which bears no berries. Cf she holly.

1957 Parris My Mts 248 Guess you didn’t know there was he-holly and she-holly. Well, there is. Only she-holly has berries. 1964 Reynolds Born of Mts 84 In North Carolina even the holly is given sex, there being a He Holly and a She Holly, for how else could the last-named have berries, the other having none. 1995 Montgomery Coll. (Cardwell, Ledford, Norris, Oliver).

I never heard about he holly and she holly when I was growing up, but I remember Pap tromping through the woods to find holly branches dotted with red for Granny to decorate her house with. Sometimes he let me ride on his back as he made the trip up the creek other times Paul and I were left to scamper along behind in his boot prints.



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  • Reply
    December 4, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Named my third child Holly. My husband wanted her born on Christmas. She came January 25 one month from Christmas. He still calls her his Christmas present.

  • Reply
    marshall reagan
    December 4, 2016 at 4:54 am

    I have heard of he holly & she holly . when I was in the eight grade my science teacher told me that
    when we were talking plants.

  • Reply
    larry griffith
    December 3, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    I met a man at the flea market last year that looked like he had the worst case of poison evy you ever seen.Turned out he had fell into a holly tree and he was allergic to it.Who knew?

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    December 3, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    My Grandmother had a ‘she’ and ‘he’ holly about 15 ft apart and the ‘she’ was always covered in berries. The hollies grew so tall I had to have them cut three times, (no longer own the property) as they were growing into the power lines. These holly had the whitest wood I’ve EVER seen, hollywood. I tried to keep some of largest pieces intending to do something? with them but someone always got rid of them. Sometime after Christmas, maybe February, the robins would come in and cover the tree and devour all the berries in one day, then they would seem drunk as skunks!??
    Such wonderful memories.
    Love your pic of the little girl and holly, more nostalgia.
    Helma Lee Mears

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    December 3, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Have several China Girl hollies in my yard and several wild hollies in the field behind my house. One came up under the big oak where we have buried several family pets. We put a few Christmas ornaments on them every December.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 3, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    She-hollies don’t have berries if there is no he-holly in the area. I guess they don’t bother to get all made up if there ain’t nobody around to ooo and ahhh.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    December 3, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    I sure do miss holly! We had huge holly trees in Georgia. I always loved them. I guess it’s just a little too cold up here in Michigan.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    I enjoyed your story of the Holly Tree, but I didn’t know only the She Holly had berries.
    When I was younger, I deer hunted with a family of boys and their dad who took us over to Choga. The daddy couldn’t walk up into the hills as good as we could, but us boys could, so he got into a big field of holly trees in his stand. We took flashlites and walked way up in the woods and spread out. As soon as it got daylight enough to see,
    we’d start barking like dogs and trying to drive whatever back down to the daddy. It’s like herding Cats, and don’t work most of the time, but we’d come out near him and there was the most beautiful sight in the world. Red holly berries were everywhere.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2016 at 11:16 am

    Ah the holly around Christmastime…all dressed up with the perfect red berries & deep hunter green leaves…makes me smile. Funny story…with all the phone texting even those of us in our 70’s we can send quick messages and not all of them get to the correct folks. My sister now lives on a mountain in Tn. ( I am so jealous), & evidently she took a big sprig of holly to our aunt in Chattanooga last week and my aunt thanked ME for it in a text. lol I am in Fla. and we do have lots of holly here also, but it is prettier with a backdrop of surrounding white snow. Have a wonderful Christmas and I look forward to each post from the Blind Pig.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    December 3, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Yes, the Holly trees really come into their own once the deciduous leaves have fallen, which seems to have happened unusually late this year. Does anyone gather “running cedar” anymore? It’s that cedar-looking evergreen ground vine that grows in patches on certain low slopes of wooded hillsides. Many years ago people made it into wreaths and other Christmas decorations.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 3, 2016 at 10:19 am

    I have a she-holly tree in my yard. When I moved here it was a stump with a few water sprouts growing from it. I tied three of the sprouts together and they grew into one stem, then into a trunk that looks like one single tree (which it was I guess because it has the same root system.) I pruned it into a ball shape with twisted tangled limbs inside. It is only about 15 feet high. The little tree is a haven for small birds. They build their nests back in that chaotic jungle place where bigger birds and animals cannot go. The ground around is covered with shed leaves which are stickerdy to little bare feet and hopefully to snakes’ bellys.
    Holly wood is excellent for carving. It is tricky to cut and season but if done right it makes a beautiful, almost pure white wood. It is often substituted for ivory in things such as piano keys. I use scraps of it to make novelties such as wooden eggs and mini rolling pins.
    I call my tree Holly Holy for the song by Neil Diamond. It was a hit right about the time you were born.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 3, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Tipper–The two biggest hollies I’ve ever seen are he holly trees. One is down below Don’s house (the home where we grew up) in what was, in boyhood, a pasture. The other is in rich soil deposited by the Tuckaseigee River over centuries on Bryson Island just upriver from the Everett Street Bridge.
    Another notable tree that comes in hes and shes is the persimmon. I’m no trained naturalist but feel sure there are lots of others. It’s just that the fruit of hollies and persimmons make them so noticeable. I’ve never heard of oaks coming in sexes, but I have a white oak on my property that is probably 30 inches in diameter, healthy as can be, and never once has it borne an acorn.
    One thing for sure–a tree adorned with fruit or berries is prettier than one lacking them, and that’s only appropriate given the decidedly different level of visual appeal between and ugly old male like me and lovely lasses of all ages.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    December 3, 2016 at 9:08 am

    I saw holly trees “in the wild” for the first time just a few years ago, when I was running a forest management workshop in the eastern part of the state. MA is small, but has several distinct habitat types, and that Cape Cod area woodland is VERY different from my central MA woodland. Those hollies were gorgeous – growing alongside a nice walking trail. While taking photographs for another forestry event in that area, I also saw “Devil’s Walkingstick” for the first time, and just typing those words is making the hair try to stand straight up on my head! Do you have that in your area? I hope not – it’s HORRIBLE!

  • Reply
    Candy Davis
    December 3, 2016 at 9:00 am

    I loved this post today. My family has a Christmas Holly, my sister, who was born on Christmas Eve. Every time I see a holly tree, I think of my sister. Over the years we have bought her many gifts that have to do with holly. We even had a holly tree in our yard when we were growing up. It’s still there.
    I also enjoyed hearing about the old farmhouse. Not far from you, the old white farmhouse that my great grandfather lived in during the Civil War era still stands, on the other side of Brasstown Creek. Over the years, many family members have lived in that house and my grandfather was born there. The house is still in the family, which makes me happy. My cousin who grew up in the house has told me stories about events that happened there over the years, just everyday happenings, that gave me more insight into my family, and bring the names I encounter in my genealogy studies to life.
    Thanks for sharing your family story with your readers!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    December 3, 2016 at 8:50 am

    There’s a big old he holly on the hill below the house which is right on the border between us and the neighbors. When we were growing up, the hillside was mostly cleared. There were seven apple trees which Daddy tended – two stayman, two golden delicious, two double red delicious and one unknown volunteer which was almost directly opposite the steps from the he holly.
    I have a wintertime picture taken by IK Stearns from the top of Schoolhouse Hill 3/4 of a century ago, and that holly was not only visible, but good-sized then. If you’d like, you can see it here:
    I’ve got a pointer toward it and our home. You can hardly make out the house, since it was (and is) painted the same color as the snow. The house was over a half century old at that time, so I wonder which is older – the holly or the house? I believe I’d bet on the holly.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 3, 2016 at 8:37 am

    You made me curious so I looked it up. American holly does have male and female trees. Even as a forester I can never remember which trees have that characteristi but some do. It’s funny in a way because I must have looked on a lot of male trees for berries around Christmas.
    I once saw a yellow-berry holly in the wild on a ridge in the Daniel Boone National Forest.

  • Reply
    Cheryl Soehl
    December 3, 2016 at 8:36 am

    My favorite tree in the yard is a huge holly right at the back of my lot. A chinaberry tree at some point wrapped itself around the lower trunk of the holly, and has lived there together with the holly, spreading two huge limbs outward, providing shelter and food for the wildlife I encourage. I used to have a swing hanging from the chinaberry limbs on the lower level, but it long ago disintegrated. Have thought how nice it would be to have a tree house built up in the holly, but that would probably aggravate the birds and squirrels. Best to leave them alone in their refuge.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 3, 2016 at 8:08 am

    There is something special about the dark green leaves as a background for the bright red berries. It makes me happy to see it.
    Tip I always feel a little sad when old trees are cut but I guess that’s just progress!

  • Reply
    December 3, 2016 at 7:59 am

    I had a “he holly” tree at my old house. It was a beautiful tree that never had a red berry on it! Happy December to you all!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 3, 2016 at 7:58 am

    Love the Holly tree. It is alays a part of our Chridtmas

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