National Geographic : 1955 Nov
Holly Wears Evergreen Leaves and Gay Red Berries (State Tree of Delaware) BEDECKED with scarlet berries, Ameri can holly provides a festive foil to win ter's stark and snowy landscape. Crisp, spiky leaves seem to suit the frosty scene in which Walter Weber has painted this well-loved evergreen (Ilex opaca). But American holly stays dressed up all year round. Its broad leaves are in decided contrast to the needlelike ones of most of the other native evergreens. Mature holly trees average between 40 and 50 feet in height; they may reach up to 100 feet, with breast-high diameters of four feet. They have numerous, fairly short but spread ing, horizontal or drooping branches. Some boughs bend low, almost touching the ground. The tree tapers to a dense crown. Thousands Gather It for Wreaths American holly grows slowly in the forest because it must compete with taller species for sunlight and moisture. In eastern plantations where it is raised commercially, the best trees average a height of about 10 feet in 12 to 20 years. The chief economic use of American holly is as an ornamental, either for live planting or for Christmas decorations. An estimated 10,000 persons are seasonally employed on the Eastern Shore of Maryland alone, gathering cuttings for the wreaths, sprigs, and sprays Page 666 + "Christmas!" Says the Holly. Green Boughs Wear Cakelike Frosting Thick evergreen leaves, alternately spaced, remain on the branches about three years. They are elliptic, oval, or elliptic lance-shaped in outline, and about 12 to 4 inches long. Dull green above the yellowish green below, the leaves have spiny, wavy margins. Even when fresh the leaves are flammable, and fire swiftly strips and kills the tree. The fruit is a small, round, berrylike drupe, usu ally solitary, with about four ribbed nutlets, or "seeds." Twigs are slender, somewhat drooping, and dusted the first year with fine reddish hairs. The sexes usually are distinct. Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees, only occasionally on the same individual. Flowers are small and four-petaled, borne in the leaf axils or scattered along the twigs. Holly's light-gray bark is thin and smooth and in older trees becomes slightly roughened and dotted with excrescences. It is peculiarly susceptible to injuries, from which the tree does not readily recover. © National Geographic Society Paintings by National Geographic Artist Walter A. Weber which we have come to associate with yuletide. Not to be confused with English holly, widely cultivated in the Pacific Northwest, American holly ranges from the coast of Massachusetts to midway along the Florida peninsula. Westward it extends through West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri to eastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma. Holly is tolerant of shade and will abide varied, even poor, soil conditions. It thrives in rich, deep, moist earth, yet can live in the rather sterile and acid sandy coastal plains, which it sometimes shares with pines. New England holly is scrubby, but in the lower Mississippi Valley and Gulf States, par ticularly Texas, Louisiana, and southern Ar kansas, it reaches big-tree stature. A "lone wolf," it scorns anything so gregarious as pure stands. Merchantable trees are scarce. Light-colored and of uniform texture, Amer ican holly somewhat resembles boxwood. It is hard, but rather weak and brittle; it tools well. The heartwood has a typical ivory hue, making it distinct among our woods. Occa sionally it shows a bluish tint or stain. With an average specific gravity of 0.58, holly weighs about 36 pounds per cubic foot. From Piano Keys to Pullman Cars The wood is quite suitable for the manu facture of scientific instruments like rules and scales; it is also used for inlay work, Pullman car finish, piano keys, backs of brushes, and toy boats. Exact statistics for the annual holly cut in the United States are hard to obtain-too many portable sawmills scattered around in the woods. What's more, unreported timber frequently goes straight to woodworking plants. Someone somehow managed to log in the 1943 holly lumber cut at 126,000 board feet. To maintain a continuous crop of holly, man must devise less ruthless methods of har vesting it, especially during the Christmastime massacre. Today the widely scattered stand contains some 5,000,000 board feet. Quail, wild turkey, and other birds relish the fruit or berry, as do deer. The seeds about 31,000 to the pound-are difficult to germinate, but birds helpfully distribute them through the forest. Leathery leaves discour age insects, and their prickles turn away leaf hungry animals.