Ilex aquifolium (Holly)
Species: I. aquifolium
Binomial name: Ilex aquifolium
Common name: Holly, Christmas Holly or Mexican Holly
As few as twenty berries by adults can be fatal.
Ilex is a genus of approximately 600 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae, and the only living genus in that family.
European holly (Ilex aquifolium) is a species of holly native to western and southern Europe, northwest Africa and southwest Asia. It is an evergreen tree growing to 10-25 m tall and 40-80 cm (rarely 1 m or more) trunk diameter, with smooth grey bark. The leaves are 5-12 cm long and 2-6 cm broad, variable in shape; on young plants and low branches, with three to five sharp spines on each side, pointing alternately upward and downward; on higher branches of older trees with few or no spines except for the leaf tip, often entire. The flowers are dioecious, white, four-lobed, and pollinated by bees. The fruit is a red drupe 6-10 mm diameter, containing four pits; although mature in late autumn, they are very bitter due to the ilicin content, and so are rarely touched by birds until late winter after frost has made them softer and more palatable.
The ilicin content is poisonous to people since it irritates the stomach and intestines, and other constituents render them harmful to the nervous system and heart. Ingestion of as few as twenty berries by adults can be fatal.
A mature Ilex aquifolium growing at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth.
Holly Suckers: Suckering is part of the natural habit of plants and is one way they exploit a favourable habitat, instead of relying on seed spread. Suckers are growths that appear from the root systems of many trees and shrubs. They may appear in borders, lawns, between paving stones or through paths, and can become a nuisance.