Nature Notes: Berry cheerful Christmas

Wimbledon Guardian: Goldcrests on holly Goldcrests on holly

As we enjoy the festive season, it is worth reflecting on some fascinating folklore facts associated with the celebrations.

Since pagan times, berry-laden sprigs of holly have been used to decorate houses. Called Holytree by medieval monks and holm in later years, the name now stands for foresight.

Folklore tells us that witches fear holly but fairies and elves take shelter in its branches and protect householders from goblins. A good luck symbol, it was nevertheless considered unlucky to cut holly and bring it indoors until Christmas eve.

The ancient Greeks believed that a holly tree planted near the house warded off evil spirits and deflected lightening strikes. (the picture shows goldcrests on holly).

Ivy, a sign of fidelity, love, friendship and immortality was once also used as a decoration but the practice seems to have fallen out of favour. Ivy too offers protection from witches. Both holly and ivy are caterpillar foodplants of the delightful holly blue butterfly, a familiar sight in our gardens and interestingly, the holly blue flies in December in some tropical countries where it rejoices in the title 'Christmas butterfly'.

Another seasonal favourite is of course mistletoe and for those romantic interludes we can thank mistlethrushes and blackcaps in particular for wiping seeds from their beaks onto tree branches, thus allowing mistletoe to sprout.

A very happy Christmas everyone.

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