The colours of Christmas are reflected in the red berries and evergreen leaves in the countryside round about us. Hips, haws and holly are among the most familiar of the berries providing the bright flashes of colour in our hedges.
Hips, the fruit of the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) are pitcher shaped and about 10-20 mm long (see image right). Inside are a number of seeds enclosed in a white fibrous material. (see image left). These fibres are highly irritant and from the image below left, it can be seen how the colloquial names of "Buckie lice", "Cow Itches" and "Tickling tommies" arose from the childhood practice of putting the hip contents down each others necks! The more usual method of seed dispersal is by birds. The fleshy fruit is highly attractive to birds and the prickly seeds are either discarded or pass unharmed through the bird's digestive system.
Vitamin C content of the wild rose hip is higher than any other common fruit or vegetable. A cup of rose hip pulp provides more vitamin C than 40 fresh oranges! Rose hip syrup is produced commercially using farmed "wild" roses. Hips harvested in the summer, when vitamin C content is at its highest, can be made into syrup by mincing, stewing and then (VERY IMPORTANTLY!) straining them through a jellybag, to remove the highly irritant seeds and fibres. The final stage involves boiling with sugar and reducing to a syrup.
Often found alongside the wild rose is the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Another hedgerow plant, (in fact its name derives from the Anglo Saxon word for hedge, "haga"), its fruit, the haw, is a more crimson colour than the hip and more spherical in shape (see left). Instead of four seeds, it only contains one. Haws too, are rich in Vitamin C.
The hawthorn has long been considered as having supernatural powers against all types of evil spirits. A variety of hawthorn, the "Glastonbury thorn", which flowers both in winter and again in May has a legend associated with Christmas. The story is that Joseph of Arimathea stuck his dry hawthorn stick into a hill at Glastonbury whereupon it grew and flowered on Christmas day.
Superstitions also abound about probably one of the most popular and familiar of the Christmas plants - holly (Ilex aquifolium). Cutting a holly tree down was considered to be unlucky, which could explain the presence of many holly trees in hedgerows in certain parts of the country today.With its evergreen leaves and long lasting berries, people associated the holly tree with eternity and the power to ward off danger.
Holly's red berries, together with its shiny green spiked foliage are familiar to us all in Christmas decorations and cards. Holly plants are dioecious (either male or female) and it is the female tree which has the berries (as shown left). Each of the spherical berries contains four seeds which are poisonous to humans, but not to birds which eat them and disperse the seeds.
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