The Common Holly

… we still dreſs up both our churches and houses, on Christmas and other festival days, with this cheerful green, and its rutilant berries. [i]

The Common Holly

Common Holly (Ilex aquifolium) grows naturally in hedges, woods and forests across Britain and Europe to a height of twenty-five feet. The bark is smooth and grey and the branches create a tapering outline to the tree.

The small bright red berries are borne from about Michaelmas till after Christmas; the glossy green leaves and red berries now being synonymous with Christmas festivities.

The edges of the thick three-inch long oblong leaves are indented with sharp spines. Indeed, Holly was one of several prickly plants used for hedging-in pastures from the fourteenth-century and particularly after The Enclosure Act of 1773.

A hedge of Holly, thieves that would invade,
Repulses like a growing palisade;
Whose numerous leaves such orient greens invest,
As in deep winter do the spring arrest.

Holly was a popular wood for floral and geometric inlay work in the sixteenth-century and early seventeenth-century. Whiter than box, holly stood out admirably against elm and oak backgrounds.

The timber of the Holly (besides that it is the whitest of all hard woods, and therefore used by the inlayer… [iii]

South Glamorgan oak chest-on-stand, inlaid with holly and bog oak, c. 1730. (Welsh Antiques)

Season’s greetings to one and all.

[i] John Evelyn, Silva: or, A discourse of forest-trees, and the propagation of timber in His Majesty’s dominions, as it was delivered in The Royal society, on the 15th of October 1662, third edition, volume 1, York, 1801, p. 272.

[ii] Abraham Cowley (1618 – 1667)

[iii] Evelyn, p. 275.


About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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6 Responses to The Common Holly

  1. yaakov says:

    All the holly I get turns grey blue :-(.


    • Jack Plane says:

      yaakov, are you sure the holly was dry? I can imagine it might discolour if still green.



    • Chris Hall says:

      I can speak a little to that: Holly needs to be dried relatively quickly to avoid the greying issue. If you air dry it too long the color change takes hold, and water is the activating agent for the chemicals responsible for the color change. Water needs to be removed from the material quickly. Holly is better cut in the winter as the chemical and fungal changes are at their maximum slowness. Some say to put the wood into a kiln pretty much on the day it is cut if possible. Holly is an expensive material as it is hard to dry and a fair amount is lost to warpage – I paid $45/b.F. for the last stuff I picked up.


  2. Greg Forster says:

    a very Merry Christmas


  3. ecrusch says:

    And a very Merry Christmas to you Jack Plane.
    And thank you.


  4. Pingback: Berry Christmas | Pegs and 'Tails

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