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Christmas holly

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european holly european holly

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Christmas holly (Ilex aquifolium), other names are holly, common holly, English holly, European holly, or occasionally Christmas holly), is a species of holly native to western and southern Europe, northwest Africa, and southwest Asia. I. aquifolium is the species familiar in Christmas decoration, and is regarded as the type species of the genus Ilex, which by association is also called "holly". It has a great capacity to adapt to different conditions and is a pioneer species that repopulates the margins of forests or clearcuts.
It is slow growing and it does not usually fully mature due to grazing, cutting, or fire. It can live 500 years, but usually does not reach 100. Holly is an evergreen tree growing to 10–25 m tall with a woody stem as large as 40–80 cm, rarely 1 m or more, in diameter. The leaves are 5–12 cm long and 2–6 cm broad; they are evergreen, lasting about five years.
Holly is dioecious, meaning that there are male plants and female plants. The sex cannot be determined until the plants begin flowering, usually between 4 and 12 years of age. In male specimens, the flowers are yellowish and appear in axillary groups. In the female, flowers are isolated or in groups of three and are small and white or slightly pink. The flowers are attractive as nectar sources for insects such as bees, wasps, flies, and small butterflies.
The fruit is a red drupe, about 6–10 mm in diameter, a bright red or bright yellow, which matures around October or November; at this time they are very bitter due to the ilicin content and so are rarely eaten until late winter after frost has made them softer and more palatable. They are eaten by rodents, birds and larger herbivores.
During the Cenozoic Era, the Mediterranean region, Europe, and northwest Africa had a wetter climate and were largely covered by laurel forests. Holly was a typical representative species of this biome, where many current species of the genus Ilex were present. With the drying of the Mediterranean Basin during the Pliocene, the laurel forests gradually retreated, replaced by more drought-tolerant sclerophyll plant communities. The modern Ilex aquifolium resulted from this change. Most of the last remaining laurel forests around the Mediterranean are believed to have died out approximately 10,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene.

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