It’s probably no surprise to learn that one of the birth flowers for December is the joyful and festive holly! Though technically not a flower, the dark green leaves and bright red berries of this gorgeous plant scream Christmas festivities and light up the dark and dreary December days. Holly has been incorporated into people’s holiday decorations, both inside and outside the home, for centuries, and this lovely bush is definitely a festive favourite!
Holly trees and shrubs fall within the Ilex genus of plants, with around 480 deciduous and evergreen species within the genus, including trees, shrubs, and climbing lianas. There are native holly plants spread throughout the tropical and temperate regions of the world but the most familiar, the one you see adorning all things Christmas, and the one that inspires that famous song, is the English holly, with its distinct leaf shape and glossy green shine. The prickles on the holly leaf do double duty, as they protect the plant from hungry animals looking for a snack, whilst also providing food and shelter from predators for birds and other small animals.
Before holly was used for decorative purposes though, the plant was seen as a symbol of fertility and protection from evil spirits. In many Western Christian cultures, holly is a traditional Christmas decoration, used in wreaths, table centrepieces and illustrations on Christmas cards. The plant has been associated with Christianity since medieval times, as expressed in the traditional Christmas carol "The Holly and the Ivy", in which the holly represents Jesus and the ivy represents the Virgin Mary.
Here’s a few interesting holly jollies for you:
- In the Harry Potter novels, Harry’s wand is made out of holly wood
- Holly is said to symbolize fertility, eternal life, good fortune and hope
- Holly berries are semi-toxic to humans, having been known to cause stomach and intestinal problems if eaten
- In heraldry, holly is used to symbolize truth. The Norwegian municipality of Stord has a yellow twig of holly in its Coat-of-arms
- It’s considered unlucky to bring holly into the house before Christmas Eve or after Twelfth Night
- There is considerable variety, in leaf shape and colour, as well as in the berries, which can be a bright yellow
- Female trees have the berries; males do not. A female holly bush needs to have a male tree nearby for pollination to occur
Narcissus is the second birth flower for December, and it could not be more different from the holly! Whilst the holly bush is an evergreen shrub, the narcissus is a bulb. Despite their obvious differences though, both are said to symbolize hope!
There are 40 different species of Narcissus, and thousands of varieties, and they are more familiarly known as the daffodil. The paperwhite is the winter-growing variety and the specific birth flower for December. Apparently, as paperwhites grow, they can get leggy (and floppy) BUT, if you get them drunk, by adding alcohol (ethanol) to the bulbs’ water, then this is supposed to stunt the stem growth without affecting the blooms. Disclaimer: we haven’t actually tried this hack ourselves! Despite their leggy tendencies, narcissi are one of the easiest bulbs to grow and produce beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus, who was famed for his beauty, rejected all romantic advances, instead he became obsessed with staring at his own reflection in a pool of water for the remainder of his life. The story goes that after he died, a beautiful flower (the narcissus) sprouted in his place. This is where the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself, originates from.
- The daffodil is the national flower of Wales and also the symbol of cancer charities in many countries
- Narcissi can cause stomach problems if ingested. There have been cases of poisoning and death when narcissi bulbs have been mistaken for leeks or onions and cooked and eaten
- The narcissus is a national flower symbolising the new year or No-Rooz in Iranian culture
- Narcissi produce alkaloids, which have been used for medicinal purposes towards the production of galantamine, for the treatment of Alzheimer’s dementia
- As symbols of new life and spring, narcissi are associated with hope, good wishes and wealth. They have also been said to symbolize protection and defence.
Although prized as an ornamental flower in some parts of the world, many people actually consider narcissi unlucky, because they hang their heads, which implies misfortune. In some cultures, white narcissi are associated with death, and have been called grave flowers. In Ancient Greece, narcissi were planted near tombs.
Whilst we don’t sell fresh holly in the flower shop, we do have a lovely range of home and gift items that feature this festive favourite. Take a look here or visit us in-store. And rest assured, that once springtime rolls around, we’ll be stocking bright and beautiful daffs by the dozen!