English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is an evergreen shrub or tree that was brought over from the British Isles and Southern and Central Europe as a garden ornamental. It is often used in landscapes, decorations, floral arrangements, and as an ornamental during the holidays, hence its nickname “Christmas Holly”.
As the riddle hinted, English Holly can grow quite tall – between 5 and 15 m, to be precise. English Holly has glossy dark green, prickly leaves that are 2 – 7 cm long with sharp spines along the edges, but can have smooth edges on older leaves. The flowers are small and white with four petals and give off a pleasant scent. They become berries that are usually red, but can sometimes be orange or yellow. Beware though, as Holly berries are poisonous to humans and pets!
Don’t be fooled, as English Holly has a native look-alike that also grows in the Sea to Sky region. Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is another evergreen shrub with sharp spines along the leaf margins. Its bright yellow flowers, purplish-blue berries and more matte leaves set it apart from English Holly. It is also much smaller, reaching 2.5 m tall at maturity.
English Holly can be found growing along the edges of wetlands and near residential areas. It can grow in both sunny and shady conditions and prefers sandy or well-drained soils.
Now, why is English Holly such an invasive Grinch? Well, it out-competes native plants by suppressing germination and depriving them of light; it also forms dense monocultures. Moreover, the roots leech nutrients and water from the soil, making it more difficult for nearby plants to thrive.
If you think that you’ve found English Holly anywhere, please remember to report it by clicking here or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.