Charlie Brown. Gilligan. Vinnie Barbarino.
These are things millennials don’t know much about. Of the three, Charlie Brown is the only one still relevant. Even today, the classic soundtrack can be heard in big box stores during the holidays. When I was a kid, we gathered around the television to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" every year, which was symbolized by a scrawny tree nailed to a board.
My wife and I are having a Charlie Brown Christmas this year. We scaled back the decorations and decided to buy the saddest, most neglected Christmas tree on the lot. We didn’t make it out of our driveway. We found one in our front yard.
It was an oakleaf holly that had been struggling in the shade for years. It wasn’t in the best location and we’d been considering putting it out of its misery for quite some time. A pruning saw made quick work of it and in no time our Charlie Brown tribute was in the front room.
This is unusual, I know. Christmas trees are typically cone-bearing species, known as conifers, such as fir, spruce or pine. I’ve never seen a broadleaf Christmas tree and, quite honestly, wasn’t sure if it would work, but it’s been two weeks and, to our surprise, the leaves are still glossy and intact.
Hollies are typically used as foundation shrubs or to screen views. Many species are native to South Carolina, such as American, dahoon and yaupon holly. Most hollies are evergreen and handle full sun quite well and a good bit of shade. Our Charlie Brown oakleaf holly, while sad, was surviving in full shade.
Hollies are well known for their festive red fruit, technically called drupes (not berries) that are often harvested for decorations. However, not all hollies are fruit producers due to their dioecious nature. Most plants in your yard are monecious, meaning they have flowers that contain both male (stamens) and female (pistils) parts. Pollination is likely to occur and result in fruit. An easy way to remember this term is that “mono” means one, or that the males and females live in “one house.”
Dioecious plants, however, have imperfect flowers that are either male or female. “Di” is two, meaning the males and females live in “two separate houses” or on separate plants. A male flowering plant is often referred to as a pollinator, since its only job is to produce pollen. It can’t produce fruit because it doesn’t have the female parts. The female flowering plants, however, will produce fruit, but only if it’s pollinated. Some female hollies, such as burford, are parthenogenic and will produce sterile fruit without pollination.
Always be familiar with potential toxicities when bringing plant material indoors. Many woody and herbaceous plants in our yard can cause mild symptoms when ingested. The foliage of some hollies is used to brew tea, such as yaupons, but can cause intestinal problems. Ingestion of holly fruit can cause vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. However, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, an adult would have to eat 20 to 30 drupes to experience mild symptoms. Children could become symptomatic after eating five.
Mistletoe and poinsettia are two other Christmas decorations with noted toxicity. However, an article from the American Association of Poison Control claims that these toxicities are often exaggerated. The majority of exposures result in mild discomfort in children and pets with no deaths reported. Some estimates suggest a child would have to eat 500 poinsettia leaves to feel ill. I don’t know about your kids, but our kids couldn’t be bribed to eat 10 spinach leaves with dressing.
Mistletoe berries are considered to be more of a concern than its foliage, but most reports suggest mild gastrointestinal distress after eating several berries. Of course, you can always play it safe around small children and pets and avoid bringing unknown plant material inside. And if accidental ingestion occurs, it’s always advisable to seek medical attention.