Charles Seabrook’s “Wild Georgia” column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
During the next few days, my wife Laura will go into our backyard in Decatur and, with clippers in hand, snip several boughs of American holly laden with red berries and shiny evergreen leaves from our trees.
She will bring the boughs inside and carefully arrange them on the fireplace mantel and other prominent spots throughout the house. Then, as far as I’m concerned, our home will be ready for Christmas.
We also will have, of course, a decorated Christmas tree and colorful lights and other trappings of the holiday season. But for me, nothing speaks more of the jolly season than boughs of holly.
There’s no escaping holly this time of year. Most, if not all, of the Christmas greeting cards that we send out or receive from friends and family each year inevitably feature images of holly sprigs with red berries and prickly evergreen leaves. Even seeing native holly trees sagging with berries during a walk in the woods sparks warm feelings of happy holidays.
Georgia’s best known native holly by far is the American holly, or Ilex opaca, which occurs throughout the state and grows as tall as 50 feet. Its popularity at this time of year is why it’s also called the Christmas holly.
In South Georgia and along the coast, two other holly species also become holiday icons — dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) and yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), which also sport red berries and evergreen leaves. (Georgia has 12 native Ilex species.)
Poets and carolers (“deck the halls with boughs of holly”) also celebrate hollies at this time of year. In her 1840 poem “Christmas Holly,” British poet Eliza Cook waxed eloquent over her native English holly (Ilex aquifolium), but her poem also could easily apply to the American holly:
Then sing to the holly, the Christmas holly,
That hangs over peasant and king:
While we laugh and carouse ’neath its glitt’ring boughs,
To the Christmas holly we’ll sing.
IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be full on Wednesday night — the “Snow Moon,” as the Cherokee peoples called December’s full moon. Only two planets are visible right now: Venus is low in the west just after dark and sets about two hours later; Mars is low in the east about two hours before dawn.
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