What’s so jolly about holly?

by Sophie Harrington

It’s that time of year again, when those shiny green leaves and red berries start appearing all around. Holly is a fixture of Christmas time, but despite being so familiar, it can still manage to surprise.


Credit: Liz West

Holly is a completely dioecious species, which means that holly plants are either male or female. This is very different to most plants, which either have bisexual flowers or a combination of male and female flowers on the same plant. This state of affairs may be the most common to us animals, but considering plants are immobile, this could be very inconvenient indeed! After all, how are the male plants supposed to reach the female plants?

Luckily for holly, and our Christmas wreaths, honeybees are particularly good pollinators. As long as there is one male plant in the vicinity, up to 20 female plants can be pollinated from that single plant. Pretty impressive! Never let it be said that bees don’t work for their keep—they might be the ultimate wingmen.

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