With the arrival of the New Year, from BUO Estudio we continued with the description of all plant species that are part of our project BUOfilia. This time we will talk about the Ilex aquifolium, better known as holly or acivo (in Galician).

BUOFILIA. "Mundo galego"

BUOFILIA. Fragment of the mural “Mundo galego.” Photograph by BUO Estudio


Holly or acivo. BUOFILIA, Fragment of the mural “Mundo galego.” Photograph by BUO Estudio

Holly belongs to the family of Aquifoliaceae, being a species from West Asia, North Africa and Southern and Western Europe.

Regarding its etymology, its name comes from the Latin Ilex (by the resemblance to the leaves of Quercus ilex or oak) and aquifolium adjective that highlights the characteristics and qualities of the thorny edge of its leaves (acus = needle and folius = leaf).

Holly or Ilex aquifolium. Botanical illustration from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany.

Myths and legends about the holly

According to the Celtic myth, there were two kings and twin brothers named Oak and Holly, who during the entrance of each solstice fought each other alternating power. The first exercised its mandate over the summer (being its period of greatest botanical splendor), whose influence would wane with the gradual loss of their leaves and with the onset of winter, a time when the reign King Holly began by the presence its bright green leaves and deep red of its berries.

The Celts used holly, ivy and mistletoe to decorate their homes during the winter solstice in order to bring luck and prosperity. Its use as a Christmas plant is attributed to the Catholic Church with the idea of replacing it with mistletoe, pagan species widely used by the Druids, being very popular in several English poetic songs and Christmas carols like “The Holly and the Ivy”.

Holly or Ilex aquifolium

Holly or Ilex aquifolium. Photograph by Iain Turner

Nowadays, it is a protected species in Galicia and in the rest of Spain species.

With this little post, we wanted to share “our Galician world” and what a best moment to do it with such a representative plant of Galicia’s winter.

Regards and happy 2016!