Holly for the holidays!

Originally posted at ouhos.org, the now-discontinued blog of the OU History of Science Collections. Neither this post nor any of its content should be taken as an official communication of the University of Oklahoma.

Baxter, HollyAlong 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!

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