Holly has always been considered a sacred plant used to celebrate new growth with its continuing vibrant colour throughout our stark winters. Druids considered it lucky and decorated their homes (hence deck the halls) and hair with holly in the winter to celebrate its eternal growth, in December Pagans would use it to honour the God Saturn and later the early Christians claimed holly as their symbol of Christmas … as in the famous carol …
The holly and the ivy
Now both are full well grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown
I love that we still use holly to deck our halls this time of year … Like this lovely holly wreath that Veronica made in one of her earlier posts : ) However here, I would like celebrate holly alongside its traditional wintery neighbour, ivy simply for their offering of yummy nectar to our bees!
In turn of course, we should thank the bees and our other pollinators such as butterflies and wasps for bringing the bright red berries to the holly and for bringing us many of our Christmas feast favourites … parsnips, onions, oranges, chestnuts and cranberries to name a few.
So despite ivy’s bad reputation as being toxic to humans and a slightly misunderstood menace to trees [healthy trees can apparently withstand ivy], it’s late flowering season makes it a vital source of rich nectar for our bees just before the winter. There is even the late flying ivy bee, which is a recent visitor to the South coast of the UK, arriving in 2001, from Europe and might be spotted busy feeding on ivy blooms from September to November.
Ivy blooms are also very popular with honeybees and I was shocked at the distinct, almost medicinal smell of our hives this autumn. This strong, unique smell comes from the ivy nectar collected by the bees towards the end of the year. Ivy is one the few food sources available to the honeybee on the run up to the winter and given that it produces a strange tasting honey, it is often [and rightly so!] left to the bees as an excellent source of winter food.
At home we have embraced all sorts of climbers! The house is covered with ivy and creepers … it all looks a bit straggly now but in the summer the house has a full head of green hair and in autumn it is very popular with bees and butterflies : )
Thanks to the talents of the bees, butterflies and other pollinators that visited the tiny, inconspicuous flowers of our creepers this autumn, they are now bearing a wintery feast of purple berries for the garden birds.
I spotted lots of local honeybees earlier in the year on our climbers. Right now, those honeybees will be forming a cluster with their queen at its centre in order to maintain a cosy temperature of about 25°C in their hives, hopefully slowly devouring their winter ivy honey food stock. They face many challenges during the winter to survive and it is vital that they have adequate food stocks in the autumn so ivy is immensely important for the winter health of our honeybees.
It takes ivy 10 years to mature and produce its flowers and berries so do consider how much of it you cut back given the helping hand it gives our honeybees when food sources are scarce.
So I will take this opportunity to wish everyone much good cheer this Christmas : )
… and when you happen upon some Christmas holly or tuck into your parsnips and chestnuts, be thankful for the bees for their wonderful pollination and be mindful to look beyond the Christmas shopping to consider the natural origins of the festivities … the spirit of eternal growth and new joyful beginnings!
PS … If you’re stuck for last minute Christmas gift idea … what about a bee saver kit?