Hazel - Corylus avellana © Aaron Parker

Hazel - Corylus avellana         Photo: © Aaron Parker

Catkins, the male flowers of Corylus avellana, the common hazel, familiar hedgerow tree and trusted friend. For thousands of years the hazel has helped sustain us: its coppiced stems, which can be easily split and twisted, providing raw materials most notably for house construction, hurdles and fencing; its nutritious nuts, a staple in prehistoric times, offering a bountiful harvest and cause for local celebration in the Autumn.


Apple - Malus  © Aaron Parker

Apple - Malus domestica        Photo: © Aaron Parker

In a Dorset orchard, a long way from its ancestral home in the forests of Kazakhstan and the region of Xianjiang in China (with some input from European crab apples Malus sylvestris along the way) this domesticated apple, Ashmead's Kernel (one of over 2,200 varieties currently held within the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale), awaits the ancient ritual of wassailing to wish it well and a good crop for the coming year.

See : Morgan, J., The New Book Of Apples, Ebury Press, 2002.


Holly - <em>Ilex aquifolium</em> &copy; Aaron Parker

Holly - Ilex aquifolium         Photo: © Aaron Parker

Holly is mostly associated with Christmas in Britain today, but it has a rich folklore and a number of traditional uses, now largely forgotten, stretching back into the past.

One of these was as a fodder for animals in wintertime. Holly trees, which also provide excellent shelter, were once planted and managed for this purpose. Records dating back to the 13th C show that holly was an important winter food for sheep, particularly in the uplands of northern and western England. Cattle - associated in medieval times with woodland grazing – as well as horses and pigs might also be fed the leaves of this woody evergreen to supplement their diet in winter. Of the various woodland trees browsed naturally by animals, including deer, holly leaves have one of the highest calorific contents and are nutrient-rich*.

*Nature Conservancy Council, ‘The Food & Feeding Behaviour of Cattle and Ponies in the New Forest’, 1983, in: Mabey, R., Flora Britannica, Chatto & Windus, 1997, p246

See also: Spray, M., ‘Holly as a Fodder in England’, The Agricultural History Review, January 1981, 29 (2): 97-110.