Ilex, or, as it’s more commonly known, Holly, is a genus of nearly 600 plants in the Aquifoliaceae family. As a genus it is fascinating to scientists as it is a very, very ancient plant – Ilex has been around since the time of the dinosaurs and it’s different species has been used to help trace continental drift. Different species are native to various regions all over the globe and have adapted to their home climates, making Ilex a valuable research subject to disciplines as varied as paleontology to geology and climatology.
Various species of Ilex grow on every continent except Antarctica. The tea-like beverage Yerba Mate is an Ilex species and the French make a kind of brandy from another Ilex species. The Druids considered common Holly to be protection against evil spirits and in heraldic symbology it stands for truth.
There are two main types of Ilex for ornamental use; Ilex verticillata (tall, upright branches) and Ilex aquifolium (or common Holly). Both stand out due to their striking and colourful berries. They’re perfect for decorations, arrangements and bouquets.
The bare Ilex branches, covered in brightly coloured berries, are popular for cutting and in arrangements. They bring rich colours, radical atmosphere and midwinter magic to any vase, bouquet or event they are featured in. Holly is a popular traditional Christmas decoration: the sharp-edged leaves and red berries are often used in wreaths and decorative arrangements. Holly is an evergreen shrub.
Growing Ilex requires a bit of patience. It takes about a year for Ilex to grow its branches and then will only bloom and bear fruit in the second year. It will take about five years before a grower can start harvesting Ilex. Cultivating Ilex plants of superior quality is a real challenge that demands both the dedication and technical skill of the grower.
Ilex plants are harvested for their decorative branches that are densely packed with ornamental berries. Harvest takes place from November until the end of January. Only female plants grow the berries, but because they need the male plants for reproduction, a plant nursery will almost always plant both female and male Ilex. To bring you the most beautiful decorative branches with superior quality berries but without any foliage, the branches are kept under canvas in autumn. The leaves wither and fall off, while the plants (and berries) remain in place.
We believe Ilex and Holly are more than Christmas favourites with a world of endless possibilities that is still to be explored. We invite you on our journey to do more with Ilex and Holly. There are about 10 colours available for the common Holly (Ilex aquifolium), from radical red to sunny orange. Ilex verticillata is available in about 15 colours, from red to orange and yellow. These warm winter hues are easy to mix together and are an inviting modern palette for you to create with.