The holly bears the crown!PUBLISHED ON: 22 NOVEMBER 2022
As the traditional Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy goes: ‘…of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.’
Holly has been used to decorate homes and public buildings at Christmas since the 15th Century, and some of the ancient holly trees in the New Forest are even thought to go back to this time.
The Druids, Romans and Celts brought evergreen foliage into their homes during winter, believing it had magical properties, and would ensure the return of spring. Christians adopted holly as a symbol of Christ’s crown of thorns, with the berries representing drops of blood.
New Forest holly trees have a unique shape as their lower branches are enjoyed by ponies whose sturdy mouths are unhurt by the prickly leaves. This grazing leaves a definite ‘browse line’ at about head height.
Branches above the reach of commoners’ stock are cut (pollarded), which encourages re-growth, and can significantly increase the tree’s lifespan. Pollarding also lets light reach the Forest floor, while the cut boughs are left on the ground for the ponies to eat.
As part of the HLS scheme, ongoing holly management is taking place across the Forest to help improve habitat for rare lichens and create a healthy tree structure.
If you’re out and about in the Forest, you’ll notice bright red berries peeping from among the foliage. According to folklore, an abundance of berries is the sign of a harsh winter ahead.
This doesn’t stop the feathered visitors such as fieldfare and redwing who find the berries delicious, and fly all the way from Siberia to spend Christmas with us in the New Forest.
Locally sourced holly wreaths are available to buy, alongside sustainably-grown Christmas trees, at Forestry England’s Christmas Tree Shop at New Park, near Brockenhurst. Open daily from 26 November-18 December 2022 10am – 4pm.
The money raised goes towards maintaining the Forest, making sure it remains a truly special place to spend time in – now and for future generations.