When you think of Christmas, what do you see? Mulled wine, a dazzling Christmas tree, and an abundance of presents are just a few things that spring to mind. The chances are, you’ll also see the iconic holly flower in your imagination, too.
Holly is one of the most recognizable flowers in the world. While it’s most notable for its ornamental value during the holidays, the flower also has a more far-reaching and profound history. This has earned it an impressive range of symbolic and cultural meanings.
Ready to learn more about the holly flower? Stick with us to find out more.
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What Does The Holly Flower Mean
Holly plants used to symbolize Christmas since medieval times. Many knows it as “christ’s thorn.” Historically, they’ve been used to represent defense, primarily due to their pointy leaves.
The flower has also had some powerful superstitious meanings. In olden times, people would plant this flower around their properties to protect them from lightning and thunder. People also believed this flower protects people from witchcraft and the infamous “evil eye”.
People would also use the plant to gauge the harshness of the winter season. If the holly plant has numerous berries, this was believed to indicate a challenging winter. This is because an abundance of berries was seen as plentiful enough to feed the birds throughout the winter.
Etymological Meaning Of The Flower
To better understand the holly flower, let’s explore its etymological meaning.
The word “holly” is used to describe an evergreen shrub. This shrub became popular in Christmas decorations in the mid 15th century. The word “holly” evolved from the mid-12th century “holin.” This also has its roots with the Middle Irish “cuilenn” and the Welsh “celyn”.
The words “halibut,” “holiness,” and “holy” also have the same roots as holly.
Symbolism Of The Flower
Whatever its origins, each flower has its own symbolic meaning. Interpretations often vary between cultures, and this flower is no different. Keen to find out more about the flower? Let’s explore some of its most impactful symbolic meanings.
Fertility and Eternal Life
The holly flower also associated with fertility and eternal life. The druids, who were members of a high-ranking social class in ancient Celtic cultures, believed the flower had its own magical powers. According to druid lore, cutting down a holly tree was destined to bring bad luck.
The holly flower is also associated with aggression, combativeness, and defensiveness. This symbolism stems from ancient Rome, where the redness of the plant’s berries was considered a sign of bloodshed and war.
This symbolism was taken so seriously that history documents several battles that are said to have been instigated purely because a soldier saw a full holly tree in bloom. The presence of the tree then prompted soldiers into battle.
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Symbol Of Christ
Most notably, holly is considered a symbol of Christ. It is the official birth flower of December. Also, the pointy leaves of this flower represent the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion. It also is a symbol of Christ since as far back as the 15th century.
Today, it is often displayed in garlands, wreaths, and centerpieces at Christmas time. Its bold, bright foliage perfectly complements its red berries, making it a powerful decoration to have on display during the holidays.
It is also indicative of masculine energy. According to the celts, those born under the Celtic Moon sign of the “Holly moon” are blessed with formidable strength, tenacity, and a strong connection to the earth. These people will also have a powerful ability to redirect energy to create a balanced flow.
The flower also strongly associated with positivity and joy. This is primarily due to the colorings of the flower, which have their own associations with rejuvenation and enlightenment.
Flower Color Meanings
The holly flower may not be one of the most colorful plants in the world; however, its colors still play a significant role in its cultural meanings and interpretations. So let’s explore the flower’s color meanings below.
The holly flower is predominantly green, with a bewitching burst of red berries which usually sit together in a cluster.
Green has the power to invoke some powerful emotions. Green is the most predominant color in nature, and it has strong associations with growth, life, and renewal. It also has additional associations with peace, rest, rejuvenation, and abundance.
Spiritually, the color green can also symbolize good health and a strong mind. This color has the power to bring harmony and positivity to almost any setting.
Although red is most commonly associated with love and passion, it’s also used to symbolize war, suffering, and religious fervor.
This is apt when we consider Roman’s belief that it was indicative of bloodshed and war and the plant’s sorrowful associations with the blood of Christ and the crucifixion.
There are several variants of the holly flower, some of which have diversified to become white. White associated with purity, innocence, and peace, but also strongly linked to sympathy and loss. This ties into the holly’s Christian associations with the suffering of Christ.
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Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Holly Flower
The holly flower, or Ilex, has over 560 species. These flowering plants are dioecious, meaning that their male and female flowers grow on different trees.
Holly is native to the UK; their female flowers develop into red berries, which will stay on the tree throughout winter. The holly tree can live up to 300 years, and they grow up to 15m tall.
The holly species can either be low-growing or reach great heights. The majority of holly plants have pointy or alternative leaves, and although their leaves are often a glossy green, some may be white or variegated.
Though they receive little appreciation for their scent, it has a pleasant and unique smell. Berries are often red, but some can be black, yellow, white, and even pink.
Although it is a beautiful, symbolic plant, it’s poisonous to humans and animals, including cats, horses, and dogs. If you ingest it, you may experience diarrhea, vomiting, drowsiness, or dehydration. It can be particularly fatal to small children if consumed in large doses.
Holly may be native to the UK, but it also grows in other areas such as the south-central United States and Israel.
The plant is tenacious and can grow in many places; however, it doesn’t tolerate poorly drained soil or wet sites. It can grow well in oceanic, temperate climates, which is why it’s commonly found in Northern Ireland.
Special Occasions For The Holly Flower
Whatever the occasion, gifting a flower can be the perfect display of appreciation. While it may not be your first choice, the holly flower can be a unique and meaningful gift for several occasions. Let’s take a look at some of the most appropriate gifting occasions for the holly flower below.
When we don’t see it in the wild, holly is most commonly seen at Christmastime. If you want to give your loved one an attractive, symbolic gift for the holidays, why not consider holly? This holly flower can be given on its own or as a wreath or centerpiece.
Does your loved one have a winter or December birthday? The holly plant can be a wonderful gift to send. Holly is also the official flower of the December birth month, making it a truly meaningful gift to send to your loved one.
Holly Flower Facts
Not only is holly a unique and attractive plant, it also has a wide array of practical uses and a rich history. Now, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting holly flower facts below.
- The holly plant varies in shape and can appear to be anything from rounded to pyramidal.
- The berries of the holly plant are poisonous and contain a toxin called saponin. The leaves of the holly plant are not poisonous.
- Some hollies can live up to 100 years or longer if cared for correctly.
- Mature trees can reach up to 15m in height.
- Both the male and female hollies produce red buds. These develop into small white flowers in May.
- Only female holly plants produce berries. Bushes of each type are needed to cross-pollinate and guarantee berries.
- The holly bush controls how and when its berries are eaten.
- Unlike some other native shrubs, the holly leaves are unpalatable to many insects. The leaves provide food for just 29 species of insects.
- Holly’s have long been used in herbalism and can be brewed in tea to treat many ailments.
- The holly tree wood can also be used as firewood and as inlay carving;
- Holly was the original yule log burnt at Christmas.
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Holly Flower Uses
You may be surprised to know that the holly plant also has a wide range of practical uses. So let’s take a look at some of the most common ones below.
Holly contains caffeine and other caffeine derivatives. In herbalism, the leaves can be dried and used to create an infusion that can treat a number of ailments, from rheumatism, digestive issues, fever, hypertension, poor blood circulation, and even arterial function.
In some cases, the leaves of the holly plant can be used to make tea, however, the berries are poisonous and should not be consumed by humans or animals.
Sustenance To Animals
Although many animals choose not to eat holly because of its sharp, spikey leaves, the holly can provide sustenance to many animals, including deer and livestock.
They favor holly, especially in the winter months. Many birds and small mammals also eat the berries of the holly during the winter.
What Is The Symbolism Of A Holly Flower Tattoo
If you have a strong tolerance for pain and can commit to a specific tattoo design, a holly tattoo can be an excellent way to express your individuality.
While the holly tattoo may not be one of the most popular design choices, it’s rich in history, beauty, and symbolism. Not sure what the holly flower tattoo means? Let’s take a look at its meanings below.
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The holly flower has strong associations with pain, but also defense. Its sharp leaves are an incredible deterrent and can offer great protection.
This also makes the holly flower a notoriously strong plant. If you’re a strong individual, or you’re defensive of your energy, family, or loved ones, the holly tattoo could be the perfect way to express your personality.
We all love the Christmas holidays, but do you have a special place in your heart for the season? The holly flower is ideal if you want a unique design to display your passion for the holidays.
Because of its distinctive appearance, it can also be tattooed in either black or color, depending on your preference.
Happiness And Self Growth
Holly also represents happiness and self-growth. If you’re on a journey of self-growth and improvement, why not talk to an artist about a holly tattoo design?
This is a distinctive design to convey your spiritual journey. It’s sure to get heads turning, and with so many design choices, there’ll be a variation to suit all tastes.
Holly is a beautiful, forceful flower. It’s formidable and bold, and it certainly proves that not all flowers have to be delicate to be awe-inspiring.
The holly’s jagged leaves are one of its most distinctive features and have contributed to its associations with power, defensiveness, and war. Arguably, the holly is one of the most iconic flowers in the world.
It also has an array of practical uses and cultural significance. Whether you’re looking for a unique gift or a quirky tattoo design, the holly has something for everyone to love.
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