Along with mistletoe and poinsettias, no plant represents the winter holidays as much as holly (genus Ilex). The image to the right is found in a work currently on display by the British botanist William Baxter (1787 – 1871) (click the image for a higher resolution version).
Baxter was curator of the Oxford Botanic Garden. His British Phaenogamous Botany, or Figures and Descriptions of the Genera of British Flowering Plants, was published in 6 volumes between 1834 and 1843. It contains 509 copper-plate engravings, each hand-colored by Baxter’s daughters and daughter-in-law.
Baxter’s work is on display until the end of this week in the History of Science Collections’ exhibit, Treasures of the Collections: Winter Holidays.
According to Wikipedia, holly berries are not edible by humans, but relished by certain birds and other animals. The dense, light-colored wood is used in works of fine craftsmanship, such as cases and chess pieces. In heraldry, holly represents truth. Holly leaves contain caffeine and may be used to make a stimulating and purgative tea.
As you complete this week of final examinations, stop by to see this exhibit if you’re studying in the library and need to take a break. After hours, if you need inspiration, go outside and gaze upon the bright stars of winter. To warm up we recommend, instead of holly tea, a steaming cup of hot chocolate, as advised by an 18th-century Italian physician. And in any case, we wish you every success in your finals, a wonderful winter break, and a very Merry Christmas!