by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
Here on the South Shore, our woodlands are dominated by Eastern white pine trees, along with plenty of oaks and maples. American Holly trees (Ilex aquifolium) – with their bright red berries and shiny, spiky leaves – appear less frequently. While they’re far from rare, coming across one in the woods can feel like a gift, especially after a snowfall, when the vibrant colors of the holly tree really stand out.
Birds like holly trees too – especially in the fall and winter, when the berries appear, and provide a source of nourishment. Songbirds such as robins, blue jays, and cardinals feast on holly berries, as well as wild turkeys, deer and squirrels. Only female holly trees bear berries, and they do so only when a male holly is nearby (with the help of pollinators such as bees and butterflies). Fun fact: those crimson orbs aren’t actually berries! They’re what’s known as drupes – similar to stone fruit like a cherry or a peach. But don’t eat them – they’re toxic to humans.
As you walk in the woods this winter, be on the lookout for holly trees. Conical in shape and not especially tall, with greenish-gray bark, hollies tend to stand out as “different.” In addition to appreciating their beauty, you might notice birds and other wildlife appreciating their fruits. See below for a list of properties where holly trees can be found along the trails.
Also, don’t miss the final month of our 2023 Explore South Shore Challenge, Know Your Local Waters. Have you been learning along with us about the rivers, streams, ponds and other waterways of the South Shore? Have you been exploring some of the public properties we’ve highlighted? As we make plans for 2024, we’d love to know more about what you’ve enjoyed.
Higgins-MacAllister Preserve, Scituate
Follow the bridge to the 1.2-mile loop trail, which extends through woods and wetlands, offering views of Merritt Brook, a tributary to Bound Brook. Along the way, you’ll find a grove of holly trees. Extend your walk into the adjacent Bates Lane Conservation Area, and look for additional hollies along the Carl Pipes Trail. Also in Scituate, the Ellis Estate, home to numerous hollies itself. Each property has its own parking lot: at 31 Holly Crest Road (Higgins), 188 Clapp Road (Bates), and 709 Country Way (Ellis).
Whitney & Thayer Woods, Cohasset
This expansive 824-acre woodland, also in the Bound Brook watershed, offers 10 miles of trails, plus access to several adjacent properties. There is a large grove of American holly tucked into a remote spot between Turkey Hill Lane and One Way Lane. Owned by The Trustees. Look for the parking area at 380 Chief Justice Cushing Highway (Route 3A). Also in Cohasset, check out Wheelwright Park and Barnes Wildlife Sanctuary (202 North Main Street), where in addition to holly trees, you’ll find a skating pond, captivating glacial erratics, and more than a mile of trails suitable for cross-country skiing.
Smith-Nawazelski Conservation Area, Hanson
This 101-acre conservation property on Poor Meadow Brook features more than 2 miles of trails through woods and wetlands. In the forest, you’ll find a stunning grove of holly trees. Look for the parking area at 482 Elm Street. Also in Hanson, check out The Last Meadows (53 Pierce Ave.) Follow the broad, mile-long path to the historic meadow, then look for the Bonney Hill Trail, which features boardwalks and more holly.
Colby Phillips, Hanover
This inviting 147-acre property features 3 miles of trails through woods and wetlands, plus boardwalks, a bridge over Cushing Brook, and an observation deck overlooking freshwater marsh. Can you spot the holly trees in the woods? While in Hanover, also check out the Melzar Hatch Preserve, home to a beautiful grove of holly. Parking for both is at Hanover Middle School during non-school hours. For Colby-Phillips, cross Whiting Street to the well-marked trailhead. For Melzar Hatch, look for the trailhead behind the school.
Sampson Park & Memorial Forest, Kingston
This 200-acre town-owned property on the Jones River offers more than a mile of woodland trails, plus vernal pools and close-up views of Furnace Brook. Far down the main trail, just before it crosses the brook, there is a large grove of holly. Parking area at 67 Elm Street.
Phillips Farm Preserve, Marshfield
The Wildlands Trust owns this 40-acre property in North Marshfield, not far from the North River. With open grasslands and forest trails that connect to Nelson Memorial Forest and Union Street Woodland, it’s a great spot for an extended exploration. Look for holly trees in the wooded areas. Park at Corn Hill Woodland, across Union Street.
Cato’s Ridge, Plympton
This 105-acre property features a 2-mile network of woodland trails plus a 600-foot boardwalk over the Jones River Brook and its surrounding wetlands. In particular, check out the trail that climbs Cato’s Ridge. Near the top you’ll find some holly trees. Parking area at 81 Main Street, Plympton.
Cuffee Conservation Area, Norwell
This 350-acre Norwell Conservation property in the watershed of Black Pond Brook features a quaking bog, a historic road, a pond, a swamp, and several well-tended trails. In the upland forest areas, you’ll find pine, hemlock and beech, as well as the occasional holly. There are also some remarkably large cedar trees. Look for the parking area at 181 Mt. Blue Street.
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. You will also find 26+ years of Kezia’s Nature columns there. For more information about the Explore South Shore 2023 Challenge, visit https://www.nsrwa.org/get-outdoors/2023-explore-south-shore-challenge