Two of the most common holly plants are the American holly and the English holly. The holly is a distinctive evergreen plant, with glossy green, prickly scalloped leaves and bright red berries, which are not actual berries. The holly berry is a fruit with stones and is considered poisonous. While the berry is poisonous, Native Americans once boiled pine tops with the twigs of the holly plant to make a cough elixir.
Holly plants are a popular ornamental landscaping plant. Although its leaves are prickly, the dense nature of the plant makes it ideal for hedges and for topiaries. Strategic pruning transforms the plant into a singular tree, reaching upwards some 30 to 50 feet, or into a hedge, with a span ranging from 8 to 15 feet. Yet, it is possible for the span of the American holly plant to reach 40 feet wide. It is a slow-growing plant and tolerates sea spray when planted along coastal regions. The red berries, which appear on the female plant, attract birds.
During the winter holidays a number of plants become favorites for decorating and inspiring the holiday spirit; these include the pine tree, poinsettia, mistletoe and the holly plant. Sprigs of holly provide holiday accents for floral arrangements and a festive dressing for the fireplace mantle or dining room table. Craft holly into wreaths or boughs, or use clippings from the plant to brighten the base of candle holders. When fashioned into a ring, the holly becomes festive headwear. The holly is a willing model for the artist drawing Christmas cards or painting holiday windows. Traditional Christmas postcards often feature a sprig of holly in each corner or a vine of holly around the card’s perimeter.
The wood of the holly plant has a tight grain and is extremely hard, which makes it valuable when making certain musical instruments, fine furniture and household items. If stained black, to make piano keys, it resembles African ebony wood. It provides material to make tool handles, ship models, brush and umbrella handles and fingerboards and pegs for violins. Wood block engraving, woodturning and inlay projects utilize wood from the holly plant. As a veneer, it creates a fine finish for furniture.