Ilex aquifolium

Well, I wouldn’t fancy eating it-but holly used to be a very important fodder crop for livestock through the winter months in the United Kingdom. Looking at the spines on the leaves, you can’t imagine why animals would eat it, but they do.

In the New Forest there are many holly trees and at certain times of year, small branch tips are found lying on the ground around some of them. These have been bitten off by the ponies and are left to lie for some days before being eaten. This process is thought to make the leaves more palatable.

Hollies readily regrow when cut down, and trees used to be pollarded (cut back), the branches being taken away as fodder. In Shropshire, on the upland formation of rock and moor known as the Stiperstones, is one of the oldest groves of holly trees in Europe, an estimated 300 to 400 years old. Venerable for a holly. It is thought they have achieved this great age because they were managed as fodder plants in the past, and constantly renewed themselves.

Incidentally, the land where the ancient hollies at Stiperstones grow is being sold and an appeal has been launched to save them for posterity. The Shropshire Wildlife trust is trying to buy the land as part of it’s tremendous effort to preserve the habitat of that wonderful part of the world. You can find out about it here.