A botanical Christmas

A festive rattle through some of the plants associated with Christmas – some of which, but decidedly not all, grow in the North York Moors…

Sam Witham – Conservation Research Student

Holly in the North York Moors - copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA

Common holly Ilex aquifolium

Christmassy fact: Holly is well known as a festive winter decoration. The Romans sent holly branches with presents during the December festival of Saturnalia.

Other facts: ‘Holm’ is an old name for holly and is seen in place names such as Holmwood and Holmsdale.

UK Habitat: Woodland and hedgerows – it is commonly found as an understorey tree or shrub in oak and beech woods.

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Ivy in the North York Moors - copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA

Common ivy Hedera Helix

Christmassy fact: Traditionally ivy is associated with holly (hence the song) and used in festive winter decorations.

Other facts: Ivy can be mistaken for two different species as the juvenile leaves look totally different to the adult ones. In some countries, where it has been introduced, it is classed as an invasive species.

Young ivy plant - http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/animalsAndPlants/noxious-weeds/weed-identification/english-ivy.aspx Older ivy plant - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedera#/media/File:Ivy_fruits.JPG

UK Habitat: Woodland and hedgerows, pretty much everywhere.

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Mistletoe - https://www.flickr.com/photos/50780708@N02/23233931062/in/photolist-Bp6Yfj-BUDacy-4j9yvv-gBaopM-8ZVcso-s2yumx-4bLMCN-aZ6L4p-5LLkCB-dX8H2z-rvpSYJ-inXCLu-7jnCE2-i9FvW6-4749S1-qT5sxw-uvftw9-dCCFCR-pLtrdq-7ff4Cb-qk3uuR-7rSpe4-99CRPd-pvetfG-7hhVUi-r1Ebdt-5LyxL3-poSS8o-uw45F-iW6fWi-fgguG2-qxKiPX-aVetnt-qFU2gt-qpuLhQ-fPBXx8-pHEZAP-5MQ7pN-cqoujm-nLzs9D-6UU2jB-dneBvf-aUKdwz-7mH6Pj-57xvpx-hLjsHq-nsiRC6-qstbSm-ehkmaP-AKXPia

European Mistletoe Viscum album

Christmassy fact: Mistletoe is used as a Christmas decoration and there is a long-held tradition of kissing underneath it. For each kiss made under a bough, a berry was removed.

Other facts: Mistletoe is semi-parasitic. In the UK, poplar, lime, apple and hawthorn are common hosts. Druids apparently used the plant as an aphrodisiac hence the association with kissing. The folklore around mistletoe is endless.

UK Habitat: Trees and Woodland, more prevalent in the south of Britain.

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Veteran Oak - Deer Park, Helmsley - copyright NYMNPA

Pedunculate oak Quercus robur

Christmassy fact: The Yule log, a special log burnt through the Christmas season, was traditionally cut from oak. Each Christmas a piece of the Yule log was saved to light the next year’s Yule log.

Other facts: Oaks are home to many species of wildlife and can live to a great age. The Oak plays an important role in British history/culture as a symbol of strength and steadfastness.

UK Habitat: Woodland, Wood Pasture and Parkland

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Growing 'Christmas Trees' in Scotland - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-35050437

Christmas trees Various species including several Firs, Pines, Spruces, Cypresses and Cedars

Christmasy fact: The idea of the Christmas tree began in Germany as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries, where Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Traditionally the tree was decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts and other foods. An angel or star is often placed at the top of the tree to represent the Archangel Gabriel or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity.

Other facts: There are about 600 conifer species and the group contains the world’s tallest tree (Redwood Sequoia sempervirens) and oldest tree (Great Basin bristlecone pine Pinus longaeva).

Habitat/distribution: Conifers occur on all continents except Antarctica, and are found in a wide range of habitats.

Other Christmas Trees…New Zealand Christmas Tree (Pōhutukawa) Metrosideros excelsa and the Western Australian Christmas Tree Nuytsia floribunda

New Zealand Christmas Tree - http://www.fotolibra.com/gallery/88939/pohutikawa-trees-in-blossom-new-zealand/

Western Australian Christmas Tree - http://www.floristtaxonomy.com/category/nuytsia

Christmasy facts: These trees flower from October/November to January, hence being known as Christmas Trees.

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Frankinsence trees - http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/boswellia-sacra-frankincense

Frankincense tree Boswellia sacra

Christmassy fact: Frankincense is the valuable oily gum resin from Boswellia trees, named in the Bible as one of the three gifts given to the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men.

Other facts: In ancient Egyptian mythology Frankincense was believed to be the sweat of gods fallen to earth. The legendary phoenix bird was believed to have built nests out of Frankincense twigs and feed upon ‘tears’ of the resin. In some Arab communities the gum is chewed to treat stomach problems. The gum can also be burnt as incense.

Habitat/distribution: Desert woodland, on rocky limestone slopes, and the ‘fog oasis’ woodlands of the southern coastal mountains of the Arabian Peninsula. Here in the summer months the mountains are covered in thick fog allowing a rich woodland flora to develop. Also native to Native to Ethiopia, northern Somalia, south-western Oman and southern Yemen.

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Commiphora spp - http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantcd/commiphora.htm

Myrrh tree Commiphora guidottii

Christmassy fact: This particular myrrh tree is the source of the oleo-gum-resin (a mixture of volatile oil, gum and resin) known as scented myrrh which is suggested to be the myrrh named in the Bible as another of the three gifts the Three Wise Men presented to the baby Jesus.

Other facts: Together with Frankincense, myrrh is a common incense ingredient used in religious ceremonies. Ancient Egyptians used the gum resin to preserve mummies. Its antibiotic properties reduced decay and gave a sweet scent.

Habitat/distribution: Somalian and Ethiopian bushland.

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Helleborus niger - http://europe.floraveronese.net/helleborusniger.htm

Christmas rose (also known as Black hellebore) Helleborus niger

Christmassy fact: According to legend, a young shepherdess named Madelon was tending her sheep one cold and wintry night. As she watched over them, a group of wise men and other shepherds passed by, bearing gifts for the newly born Jesus. Madelon wept, because she had no gifts to bring the New-born King, not even a simple flower… An angel, upon hearing her weeping, appeared and brushed away the snow to reveal a most beautiful white flower tipped with pink – the Christmas Rose.

Other facts: An overdose of Hellebore medication has been suggested as the possible cause of death of Alexander the Great. The Christmas rose does not belong to the rose family (Rosaceae) – it in fact belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)

Habitat/distribution: Mountainous woods and slopes. It is found in Switzerland, southern Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and northern Italy.

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Winter view looking south down Rosedale - copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the North York Moors National Park

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