Saturday, 28 December 2013

Holly, Mistletoe and Ivy

A browse through any flora of the British Isles will show that the Daisy family, Asteraceae, has over 100 species native to this country. The figure for the Grass family, Poaceae, is broadly similar whilst the Carrot family, Apiaceae, contains several dozen native species, as does the Pea family, Fabaceae and the Rose family, Rosaceae. Precise figures are hard to pin down since there are many "microspecies" in the Daisy and Rose families. The figure is further muddled by the number of well-established aliens now regularly noted on a country walk. However one looks at it, these are BIG families.

Ivy in flower with a calliphorid fly
Byfield Pocket Park
But here's an odd thing: Mistletoe is the only British member of the Loranthaceae; Holly is the only member of the Aquifoliaceae native to Britain whilst Ivy is our only member of the Araliaceae. Worldwide the Loranthaceae has over 600 members, whilst the figures for the Aquifoliaceae and Araliaceae are 300+ and 700+ respectively. In other words the Holly, Mistletoe and Ivy are all outliers; sole representatives of families otherwise with a tropical or subtropical range.
Fruiting Ivy in Byfield Pocket Park
Yellow-berried Hollies are frequently planted but
rarely feature on Christmas cards.

Holly, as a native plant, is rare in Northamptonshire and all trees noted are likely to have been planted or derived (as bird-sown plants) from gardens, churchyards and so on. 

George Druce's Northamptonshire flora, published in 1930 makes no mention of Mistletoe, from which we may conclude that it is not native to our county, where it remains a scarce plant. The only specimen of which I know in the Byfield area is on an apple tree in my garden, where I "sowed" it some 7-8 years ago. Ivy is a different matter of course, being so abundant that some would accord it weed status.
Mistletoe on an apple tree in my
with Ivy on the right.

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