English holly and mistletoe are readily available in the wilderness.
The holiday season is upon us, and the winter solstice is near, which means that with less hours of sunlight and colder weather, we are spending more time sitting around the fire or on the couch watching television. Going out looking for the right tree might be one of the rare moments you take to get outdoors.
However, you can find more outside your door to decorate your home than just a tree. Holly and mistletoe, which are two other staples of holiday botany, are also invasive and parasitic species that pose a threat to native plant life, so by removing them, you are doing the forest a greater favor than removing trees.
English holly is commonly found and sold in local nurseries. Once they have been planted into the urban landscape, they take root and reproduce by fruiting berries that birds like to eat. Unfortunately, the seeds do not fully digest, and as the birds migrate, so does the holly. Once you take to the trails, it will be easy to find, because holly is an evergreen, giving it an advantage over trees that lose leaves in the winter.
The ones you find in the woods will not be as neatly shaped as the ones in your neighbor’s yard because they do not get pruned in the wild—unless you volunteer to cut them back during the holidays. Because they are shade-tolerant, and their waxy, prickly leaves are unappetizing to potential predators, they thrive in our forests, choking out light and nutrients to other native plants.
Mistletoe reproduces much in the same way that English holly does. This parasitic plant produces a sticky berry, appetizing to birds, which fly from tree to tree, spreading those undigested berries from branch to branch. Although the plant itself does process light and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, it also uses a structure known as haustorium that grows beneath the bark, absorbing water and nutrients from the host tree.
It’s important to harvest these pests in a proper manner in order to tread lightly with your planetary impact. When removing English holly, bring a small shovel and a pair of work gloves. The idea is to uproot the entire plant, killing it at the root, before you start to prune your trimmings. Be careful not to mistake the Northwest native plant salal, or Oregon grape, for English holly. If you are caught removing native plants from public land, you can be fined or end up in court defending your poor plant identification skills. When removing mistletoe, bring a pair of snippers. You want to carefully prune the entire infected branch completely, not just the mistletoe itself, in order to keep it from spreading.
Gathering these materials yourself is so much more rewarding than fighting holiday shopping crowds for wreaths made of Styrofoam, plastic, and wire. The mistletoe might even give you as much of an edge towards the end of your next holiday party as the eggnog.