Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is a medium-sized evergreen broadleaved tree. It is often used for Christmas wreaths. It is often used in garden hedges, and sometimes gets planted into farm hedges. Its leaves are spiky if growing lower on the tree, but leaves growing higher up have fewer spikes, as they are not needed for defence against browsing animals.Holly flowers develop into small round berries that ripen to red. The berries have about four seeds in usually. The seeds are dispersed in bird droppings.
It is an evergreen tree growing to 10–25 m tall and 40–80 cm, rarely 1 m or more, trunk diameter, with smooth grey bark. The leaves are 5–12 cm long and 2–6 cm broad, variable in shape; on young plants and low branches, with three to five sharp spines on each side, pointing alternately upward and downward; on higher branches of older trees with few or no spines except for the leaf tip, often entire. It is a tertiary laurel forest relict species, when the european climate was cooler and wetter. It grows in full sun in northern regions. Holly prefers partial shade and soil with good drainage and acid. Live in different types of soils and can withstand even relatively dry climates. Cold tolerant and likes humidity. In cold winters can freeze some branches.
Its woody stem, have the bark gray. It has the bark smooth throughout his life. At first the bark is a greenish color and from the second or third year is taking a definite dark gray. Its shiny leaves with spiny edge, are evergreen, dark green on the upper surface and lighter on the underside, elliptical, leathery and about 5 to 9 cm long. Its leaves are persistent, simple, petiolates, alternate, oval shaped, with a hard edge prickly in the young and the lower limbs in adults, lacking spines of leafs of the upper branches. Last about five years and are very bright green and yellow-green on the underside, totally hairless, very stiff and leathery. Is a tree dioecious, ie, there are male plants and female plants. The females are those that produce berry-shaped fruits that mature turning red, if there are male plants near to fertilize. The germination of the seeds of holly is very irregular because it requires that the plants of both genders.
The flowers are dioecious, white, four-lobed, and pollinated by bees. The fruit is a red drupe 6–10 mm diameter, containing four pits; although mature in late autumn, they are very bitter due to the ilicin content, and so are rarely touched by birds until late winter after frost has made them softer and more palatable. Unable to determine the sex until the plants begin flowering, when having 4 to 12 years old. In male specimens, the flowers appear in axillary groups yellowish. In the female, isolated or in groups of three and are small and white or slightly pink, and consist of four petals and four sepals partially fused at the base.
Male and female flowers on different plant foot, small white, born from the axils of the leaves solitary or in clusters. Female specimens produce a fleshy fruit (drupe), a bright red or bright yellow, which matures very late, around October or November, and remains long in the tree, often throughout the winter. The red berry fruit is of the size of a pea. The fruits ripen in autumn and feed them rodents, herbivores and birds. For fruits that can germinate is necessary to have a male and one female for being a dioecious plant. Germination in this species does not occur until a year later, after growing very slowly. Contains within 4 or 5 "bones" (seed), which do not germinate until the second year, if ingested by a bird as the Blackbird. It flows well and poorly strain in the bud.
The fruits, red and fleshy, are typical of winter because this is precisely the ripening season. The fruits reach the crimson color typically in October and remain so during the cold months, which makes them a vital food source for forest animals. They are poisonous for human consumption.
Holly is a very ancient species. Before the glaciers, the Holly occupied almost all of Europe, when Europe had a more humid and warmer climate. After the glacial period, the climate of Europa was made more unstable and seasonal, with hot dry summers and colder winters. Holly managed to adapt to this new climate and colder environments. The habitat of Holly today is in addition to humid Mediterranean areas, the Atlantic temperate zones of Europe and North Africa mountain. Native in the countries of the Mediterranean, it is now a protected species in some parts of Europe due to wild predation as Christmas decoration. Holly is found in western Asia and Europe in the undergrowth of oak forest and beech forest in particular. Although at times it can form a dense thicket as the dominant species. As always requires moist, shady environments, it grows within the forest or in shady slopes, cliffs and mountain gorges. Amounts to more than 2000 meters and always fresh, loose soil, preferably silica.
Holly berries are somewhat toxic to humans, though their poisonous properties are overstated and fatalities almost unknown.
Holly is rarely used medicinally due to its toxicity, but is diuretic, relieves fevers and has a laxative action.
It contains saponins, the xanthine theobromine and a yellow pigment, ilexanthin.