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Florida Environment: Past Uses of Florida Holly for Christmas Decoration  

from Plants Daily Post


November 9, 2008 South Florida Holly Days

Short Biography of a Pest Plant

Neither American HollyIlex opaca, a New World native, nor English holly, Ilex aquifolium appreciate the humidity and high temperatures of Central and South Florida, as was discovered by settlers arriving in the era of the Florida Land Boom.  With nothing to deck the warm winter halls of the otherwise generally pleased winter residents, David Fairchild, a somewhat privileged American botanist, introduced a foreign (exotic) plant for that purpose, which became a scourge of the Florida landscape in stunningly few years. As late as the 1960's it was commonly known amongst everyday folks as "Florida Holly" and was used as a traditional holly substitute during the holidays, though a pitiful substitute it was. Now more cryptically referred to as "Brazilian Pepper," or Schinus terebinthifolius, long time residents recall Fairchild's substitute as rather sticky, unpleasant smelling boughs on the mantels and bookshelves which withered quickly, releasing masses of dessicated red berries to roll along the floor or into the eggnog, sometimes lingering in corners or under furniture until past Easter.

About the time these modern pioneers of  Florida living abandoned the idea that a member of the poison ivy family could pass for a celebratory holly, birds had taken such a fancy to the red fruits that they devoured them with glee, dispersing the remains throughout the state. The plant thrived. Fairchild died in 1954, and by 1999 the old Florida Holly achieved its Category I status as a pest plant, for causing damage to native habitats and in general, the entire Florida ecosystem.

Daily Post text by Leigh Fulghum


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