Ilex is the Latin word for members of the holly family. The direct translation is holm-oak and as late as the 19th century in Britain, the term Ilex was still being applied to the oak as well as the holly.
While in Germany visiting my aunt a couple of years ago, I became enchanted with one of the 480 species of holly, Ilex verticillata, more commonly known as Winterberry. Although its gorgeous, bright berries cast the initial spell, I learned more about this lovely plant, which inspired me to christen my farm with its name.
While living in California, people would often say to me, “I bet you don’t miss winter,” or “I bet you’re glad to be here instead of back there in that miserable weather.” That and countless facebook posts bemoaning snow and cold weather have led me to the conclusion that Winter is greatly underappreciated by most. For me winter is an essential time of inward reflection, meditation, and solitude. It is the time that nature grants us to slow down and rest, to regenerate for the rebirth of springtime.
While winter’s outward appearance seems bleak and dead, the Winterberry bush is a bold reminder that even in the darkest, coldest times, there is vibrant life. The evergreen leaves of most holly species and the bright berries that also feed the beautiful songbirds proclaim this life.
Ilex is also dioecious which means that each plant is either male or female and cannot survive on its own. They need each other to pollinate and bear fruit. I like this reminder that we, like the Winterberry, need each other to survive and flourish. And that each of us to be whole, need to balance the gifts of masculine and feminine energies.
Next time you see Winterberry, take a moment to appreciate nature’s gifts!