THE TREES OF GEDLING COUNTRY PARK TREE TRAIL
During the dark months a holly tree well laden with its bright red fruit is one of the handsomest and most cheerful objects within our winter landscape Holly was one of the earliest trees to inhabit the country after the last glacial period, though pollen indication of its presence during this period is very scarce it is common throughout the UK growing up to altitudes of 750 metres. The trees occur frequently throughout Gedling Country Park and are a welcome sight throughout the winter months. It grows further north into Scandinavia (64 N) and it is limited in its southern distribution by warm temperatures, only growing in mountain areas in southern Europe. The natural growth range is from Europe and parts of North Africa through western Asia with one outlier population in China. The tree will tolerate wind, exposure, shade, browsing, frequent pruning and salt spray it is however susceptible to both draught and waterlogging. It is frequently planted in towns due to its ability to withstand air pollution and, in the past, heavy soot deposits which sometimes resulted in it forming a deciduous habit. As an evergreen, Holly is unusual amongst northern and central European woody plants and as such it has the advantage of being able to photosynthesise throughout the winter when most other trees and shrubs are leafless and dormant. Consequently it is often found as an understorey shrub growing beneath taller deciduous trees though given time it will form a tree in its own right. As the berries are spread far and wide by birds Holly can play an important role in woodland regeneration and grassland replacement. Luckily young and soft Holly shoots are very palatable to grazing livestock and this with pruning prevents invasion of the natural park grassland. This factor has also resulted in many plantings as hedgerow or pollarded plants to be used as stock fodder in the past. Plants of holly were probably planted for this purpose in medieval times and ‘hollins’ (wood pastures of holly pollards) are a feature of mountain regions. In the future it is intended to cultivate examples of coppice and pollard hollies within the Parks Coppice Woodland and use the timber, not as fodder but for timber as it produces a white, heavy, very fine-grained and even wood useful for carving, inlays and walking sticks. Small stunted plants can be found on grazed hillsides kept trimmed to dwarfs by grazing sheep. Holly trees are dioecious, with both male and female trees bearing small white flowers in late spring, though in some years a second flowering can occur later in the year, 2020 saw examples of this unusual event. The flowers are scented producing small quantities of nectar and are popular with honeybees, bumblebees, hoverflies and other insects. Some trees have been observed to change sex over time. First flowering occurs after about twenty years peaking at around forty years, and then heavy fruiting only appears in mast years. The berries are mildly poisonous to many mammals, including humans, but birds eat them particularly after frost has softened them, so they become a vital late winter food source after the other more palatable berries have gone. Among the chemicals contained in the berries are theobromine and caffeine, both mild stimulants to the nervous system (theobromine is one of the mild active psychoactive ingredients in chocolate) There are more varied local folk beliefs and traditions associated with holly than almost all other native trees. It is unlucky to cut down a holly tree at any time as ‘it is an abode of fairies’. Hedge-cutters avoided trimming holly and it has been allowed to grow tall in hedges to discourage witches as well as being planted near houses to ward off lightning, witches and other evils. It is claimed to be associated with ancient midwinter and as long ago as the Middle Ages holly branches were incorporated into Christmas celebrations in houses and churches, the berries warding off evil and the spines a reminder of the Crucifixion. In many parts of the UK it is considered unlucky to bring holly into the house before Christmas Eve and occasionally, as in Dorset and Derbyshire, even to do so at Christmas. Apart from birds few other organisms are associated with holly .No major fungi are particularly associated and only the box, Buxus sempervirens and the strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo have fewer invertebrates, The alkaloid ilicin apparently acting as protection against most invertebrate foliage feeders. Of 32 species recorded, just two are restricted to Ilex and are both common and widespread; the holly leaf-minor fly, Phytomyza ilicis, sometimes causing leaves to change to bright yellow or red, whilst the holly aphid, Aphis ilicis a black species attacks buds and young leaves causing leaf curl. During May and June the bright , yellow-green caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly, Celastrina argiolus, can be found feeding on the immature berries. Eggs are also laid on male plants and can hatch into caterpillars but are assumed not to survive. The holly blue is unusual in that it alternates its generations with a secondary host plant such as ivy, Hedera helix. Many varieties of the holly are cultivated as decorative garden plants up to 47 cultivars listed in Bean’ Trees and shrubs (8th edition) it is also exceptionally useful used as a hedge, clothing itself to the ground and being dense and stock proof. We have the female variety J.C,Van Tol with spineless leaves and bearing large, freely born, bright red fruits planted within the Memorial Garden. Holly is a long lived, (up to 500years and probably more if coppiced), and it is an extremely shade-tolerant pioneer which has evolved protection against invertebrate attack and to some extent mammal browsing, (hard leaf prickles) Below Holly.