17 December 2018

A walk to the wood with a pair of secateurs hidden in my camera bag. Yesterday, Jen decided the leaves on the holly tree in our garden weren’t spiky enough for Christmas decorations, and I could only agree. Hence my clandestine mission.

There were plenty of holly trees and bushes around, but none of them had any berries. Well, that’s not quite true: one bush had a few berries, but it was in a very public place, and I had no wish to be spotted nabbing a few precious sprigs. So I opted for some berry-less cuttings from a bush in a more discreet section of the wood.

I wonder why the absence of berries. Unlike many plants, but like us, holly is dioecious: it has distinct male and female individuals. Only the female plants bear berries—and, then, only if there’s a male plant nearby to fertilise them. I found it hard to believe all the hollies in the wood were of the same sex. Perhaps it’s just been a bad year for holly berries—unlike for hawthorn and rowan berries. Or perhaps the birds had got there before me. This struck me as far more likely, although I was surprised they hadn’t left a single berry apart from on the one bush.

By Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Website · Facebook · Twitter · Newsletter · Book

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