Happy Holly Days

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‘Tis the season to be holly!

While most of the plant world has dropped their leaves for the winter, some native plants keep pumping out oxygen all winter long like this holly, Ilex spp. The holly is specially adapted to hold its leaves through the winter with a thick cuticle that holds water in and protects it from the freezing. This allows the holly to continue the process of photosynthesis all winter long.

In case your grade school science is a little rusty, photosynthesis is the process whereby plants use sunlight to produce sugar. In the process, the plants give off oxygen, which — everybody take a deep breath! — is required for all life. In winter it becomes a bit harder to find photosynthesis happening, as the green leaves of deciduous (leaf shedding) plants were left behind in the autumn. But you can still find the leaves and needles of evergreens such as the hollies, pines and spruces taking in sunlight and giving off oxygen as a waste product. Proof of what they say: one plant’s trash is another man’s treasure!

And you may be wondering: where are the bright red berries on the holly? Holly plants are dioecious, meaning the male and female flowers are on different plants. If you see a holly bush without berries, that means it’s probably a male, since it doesn’t have the female flower parts that produce fruits.

Photo by Paul Comstock on Flickr


Paul Seevers, Naturalist Interpreter, Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve