Monday, December 19, 2005

We Hauled out a Holly: Our Native Christmas Tree

Tree dilemmas are all over!  The two shrubby evergreens in front of
our house are wiping their brows for having survived this holiday season.  I found a merry holly at a store called Buchanan's (psst...here's a list my friend Julie gave me of native plant stores in Houston.).  I was looking for an oak, like GreenDaddy wanted,but unfortunately they're all basically branchless sticks at this time of year.  Only Ziggy or Charlie Brown would buy one and decorate it.  Luckily I saw the holly, perfect because it’s full of all these little red berries.

What I learned while decorating our Ilex Vomitoria, or Pride of Houston
Yaupon Holly:
  1. Putting lights on holly is not the same as putting them on an evergreen.  You can’t just wrap them around the whole thing, you have to follow each of the main branches…our has about seven.  
  2. Important to find symmetrically balanced tree. Otherwise you'll have to stick your heaviest knicknacks in the pot so it won't tip.
  3. It’s hard to put lights on.  My dad always did it for us.
  4. It’s a relief not to have pine needles, but squashing the red berries that fell all over the floor while I put up the lights might be its own kind of meditiation on the word Vomitoria.
  5. When the lights are on, berries seem to glow of their own accord and are gorgeous.
  6. According to GreenDaddy:  whereas only a real square would not have appreciated our unusual wedding cake, many people will be upset by our strange little tree.  
I think its lovely.  It looks prairie-like and sweet.  It is true that we can't get a good photo of it, though.  I’ll put one up, but be   
assured it looks much nicer in person than it does in photograph. (I almost decided not to share an image since the image doesn't do it any real kind of justice.)

What I learned after decorating the Ilex Vomitoria:
  1. I thought I was buying the Ilex Opaca, which is a tree that grows 20 to 25 feet as is supposed to be a fabulous tree
  2. Ilex Vomitoria is a bush that grows about 15 feet, but it draws lots of birds and butterflies.
  3. Vomitoria does signify that the leaves, when boiled, makes a person vomit.  According to a website I read but can’t find again, Native Americans (which natives, I don’t know) used to eat its leaves in order to vomit as a means of cleansing themselves before hunting.
You would think either GreenDaddy or I would have noticed the difference between a tree and a shrub, and the truth is that we did.   GreenDaddy kept saying things like, “I just don’t see how these branches are going to turn into a trunk.”    Since I saw the picture of the tree in my book and it had a trunk and red berries, and since I saw the label at the store calling it American Holly Tree, I just figured this particular type of tree would look more like a shrub than a tree until it was older.  I think the man who put the tree in the car for me just picked up the wrong tree.  

Though you might pay more going to a local native plant store, their service is superb.  When I called to tell Buchanan’s about my sad tree mix-up, Donna (not the owner but “the other Donna” she said) told me I could bring my tree back in three weeks, so I wouldn’t have to undecorate it and redecorate it.   So I can still have a big tree to plant, like I had planned on.  

But also, I’ve just seen lots of pictures of the ‘Pride of Houston’ which can be trained into a tree-shape.  I think I like it better than the American Holly, which has the sharp leaves and grows in a conical shape.  So maybe I won’t even exchange the tree…though we’ll probably not use this tree to plant BabyG’s placenta.

1 comment:

Jim PathFinder and Annette Waya Ewing said...

Yaupon Holly leaves have been used since pre-columbian times, as a caffeinated drink. Colonists used it as a coffee substitute. Prior to the Removal, Cherokee, (also Creek, Choctaw) used the leaves of Ilex Vomitoria to make a tea, called Black Drink. It is was/is served at ceremonies and during important tribal meetings. Very strong infusions were used in great quantities throughout councils with competing tribes, as a means to purge oneself of negativity, in body, mind, spirit.It does cause vomiting when used this way. It has not been widely used since the 1800's. It is part of the traditions that were lost when tribes were decimated and relocated by Whites.

It is a mild stimulant, with a pleasant taste. It is easily made by lightly parching or roasting the leaves in the oven, then boiling in water for a few minutes. The caffeine is made water soluble by roasting. (same as coffee)
Wisatologi Nihi!
(Many Blessings! in Cherokee)

Annette Waya Ewing