Thursday, 13 December 2012

Holly - a more serious blog

Over the next few days people will be gathering or buying holly for festive decorations. It is a plant so familiar to us in Northamptonshire that it is worth reminding ourselves that it may not be native to our county at all. George Claridge Druce, in his "Flora of Northamptonshire" (1930) is clearly very doubtful and states (page 47): I know of no native station in Northants. (My italics). Significantly too John Clare, whose poems are liberally scattered with references to our wild plants, fails to mention it. Two other points:

!. Holly was widely used as a fodder crop in the Middle Ages, when the trees would be pollarded to encourage tender young growth (a practice apparently continuing in parts of south-west Scotland). Such a valuable tree would surely have been mentioned in, for example, John Morton's monumental work, "The Natural History of Northamptonshire", published in 1712, but its pages are silent on the subject.

2. I know of no place-names in our county - and I am open to correction on this point - referring in any way to holly. All very strange.

It is not until 1842 that we first get a  reference to holly in Northants and it comes from from the Banbury Catalogue of Thomas Beesley, a "chemist and druggist" who, though living in Oxfordshire, recorded holly from the village of Thenford.

Be that as it may, it is now common in our hedgerows and woodlands, and numerous small specimens are thriving in Byfield Pocket Park. All the seed is likely to have come from gardens in the village, or perhaps from wreaths placed in the adjacent burial ground at Christmas time. Immigrant it may be (don't tell the Daily Mail!) but it is a very welcome one. Long may it continue to thrive.

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