Common Name:  Mountain Winterberry, Mountain Holly, Largeleaf Holly

Scientific Name:  Ilex montana (The genus name Ilex is from the Latin name for the holly oak, Quercus ilex, which has leaves that are similar to those of hollies.  Montana means of a mountain or found on mountains).


Potpourri:   Mountain Winterberry is one of about 10 native hollies in the Southern Appalachian region.  Since it is deciduous it loses its leaves in winter, exposing large berries, from which the name winter-berry derives.


The similarity of the various native hollies has resulted in some confusion among them.  I. montana is sometimes considered a variety of Carolina Holly, or I. ambigua, where the Latin root of the word ambiguous attests to the identification problem.  Another species, I. verticillatta, confusingly called Winterberry Holly (or Black Alder),  can only be readily distinguished by habitat as it grows in moist terrain along streams, as opposed to the more xeric and upland  Mountain Winterberry.


The use of holly for ritual and holiday purposes dates back centuries. Pagans of Europe brought boughs of holly into their huts as a refuge for the fairy people during the winter.  The Romans exchanged holly branches as expressions of friendship to celebrate Saturnalia, their festival to celebrate the winter solstice. The Roman Christians adopted this practice for Christmas. However, the origin of the word holly is holegn, an Old English name of holly.  There is no etymological association with the word holy.

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