The ilex aquifolium
Very common shrub as a garden plant, the holly is a plant widespread even in nature in Italy and Europe, belonging to the Ilex genus. It produces medium-sized, evergreen shrubs, which reach 3-4 meters in height; the stem is woody, dark in color, very branched, slowly over the years develops a beautiful dense and well-branched plant, with a generally disordered growth.
The foliage is small, dark green, glossy, fairly leathery, covered with a waxy patina, quite aromatic if rubbed between the fingers. In spring it produces small white flowers, not particularly decorative, followed by small fruits similar to miniature olives, which in autumn become red. The plant is very decorative in winter, first of all due to its shiny and healthy foliage, which in some varieties is variegated or with a light margin, secondly for the red berries that remain on the plant until the following spring. There are many varieties of holly, most of which have spiny leaves.
The ilex aquifolium is a dioecious plant, meaning that it produces male flowers and female flowers on separate plants, so the berries are produced only by plants that bear female flowers; when we buy a holly let's make sure that the nurseryman is a female specimen if we want it to produce fruit; it also happens that over the years our holly stops producing berries, this happens due to the lack of male specimens nearby. To get so many red berries we plant a couple of female specimens near a male specimen, in order to guarantee the pollination of the flowers.
How to cultivate it
The holly is a completely rustic shrub in Italy, which easily withstands the hot summer periods and the winter frost, survives even under the snow, without suffering significant damage.
Let's place it in the garden, in full ground or in a large vase; prefers bright, but not excessively sunny locations; staying in full sun for many hours a day often causes a light coloring of the foliage. In areas with very hot summers, in the south, we avoid exposing the plant to the sun for very long periods of time and we prefer semi-shady locations.
The specimens that have been staying here for a long time tend to be satisfied with the water provided by rainfall; however, remember to water the young plants and those in pots, in the warm and dry months, always waiting for the growing substratum to be dry between one watering and another.
Generally holly leaves prefer fresh and humus-rich, slightly acid soils; staying in highly alkaline soils often leads the plants to suffer from ferric chlorosis, with foliage that gradually turns yellow; periodically use a greening fertilizer to avoid this type of disease.
Holly - ILex aquifolium: The holly as a Christmas decoration
The colors of the holly, the dark green of the foliage and the bright red of the berries, make it a perfect plant for Christmas decorations, and in fact it is often used to produce garlands or bunches to hang on the door.
This custom dates back to ancient times, when it was believed that the ilex aquifolium was a powerful amulet against evil spells; already the ancient Romans used sprigs of this plant as amulets, to hang on the doors; in particular this custom was much followed during the winter solstice, to ward off evil spirits and propitiate spring. These customs were so felt in antiquity that they still remain in the Christmas wreaths.