The common or English holly (Ilex aquifolium) is an evergreen tree growing native in western Europe; since prehistoric times it has had a special significance for the Celts and Romans, among others. It has always been connected with Christmas since the plants’ magical properties were believed to be at their strongest around the winter solstice. Holly branches were used to decorate homes as they were believed to provide hiding places for fairies. The symbolism of the evergreen leaves was also associated with the celebration of Christmas, particularly in the English-speaking countries.
Common holly is not quite hardy in Finland. The blue or Meserve hollies (Ilex ×meserveae) are the nearest approach to the common holly which have the necessary hardiness, but the leaves are not quite as spiky as the common holly. The blue hollies are a group of low-growing hybrids between common holly and Tsuru (or prostrate) holly (Ilex rugosa), produced in the 1950s in New York. The first of these hybrids came onto the market in 1964 and have been followed by a succession of named varieties, most of them bearing the epithet ‘blue’, from the colouring of the leaves.
The best-known varieties in Finland are the male plant ’Blue Prince’ and the female ’Blue Princess’. They were planted at Mustila in the 1990s and have thrived in shady protected spots such as the Terassi (Terrace) and Maaherranpolku (Governor’s Path). If male and female plants are planted together, the female develops red berries which decorate it into late autumn.