Ilex spp. (Holly)
Post by: Wes Hauser ’15
Happy Christmas in July, readers! Ilex is the sole living genus in the plant family, Aquifoliaceae, and it is known by its evergreen, spiny leaves, bright red, pitted fruits (pyrenes), and 4-petaled, inconspicuous flowers. The aesthetic appeal of the genus has made Ilex a great candidate for cultivators and landscapers (but a nightmare for amateurs trying to identify the species of individuals!) It has also been used for the longest time in religious celebrations. The Anglo-Saxons originally adorned their homes with the leaves and fruits of this plant as they were quite eye-catching (check out the pictures), and they believed the trees to be holy. Christians later integrated the tradition, which explains why holly is commonly used to “deck the halls” and is often seen in wreaths around Christmas. Additionally, another member of the genus (Ilex paraguariensis) has a more commercially-focused use in some South American countries. The leaves are utilized to brew Mate, a delightful, infused drink served in a large gourd (also called a mate). Drinkers can flavor their mate with a host of herbs and spices that can provide flavor and some medicinal benefits. So, hopefully this interesting plant can bring you a little “Christmas Cheer” as you find its attractive features withstanding even this summer heat.