Making Money from Holly, Ivy & Mistletoe

Ben Law
Friday, 12th December 2014

Ben Law shares how he makes money from his holly tree at Christmas time and how growing your own mistletoe can also be profitable.

I have a holly tree at Prickly Nut Wood which is for many reasons, is very valuable to me. It is a large mature tree and provides plenty of berries that are important bird food over the winter; When I arrived at Prickly Nut Wood, its bark was being devoured by rabbits and I took action to aid its recovery; The berries are a welcome flash of colour amongst the winter stems of deciduous tree; but also, it has a very high economic value.

Our native holly (Ilex aquifolium) is dioecious, meaning it bears male and female flowers on different trees. The holly tree I refer to is female as male trees do not produce berries. Prickly Nut Wood's holly tree has produced an abundant crop of red berries every winter for the past 23 years.

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(Large female holly at Prickly Nut Wood)

I prune the holly usually around the end of the first week in December. Using a long arm pruner, (which I also use for the apple trees), I cut off a number of boughs of berried holly and then store them in my workshop which is cool and will keep the holly fresh.

As December draws on, the birds begin to strip the tree of its berries - I bundle up my holly and deliver it for sale the week before Christmas when finding berried holly can often be challenging. I usually earn around £40 in total for my holly bunches. Over 23 years that equates to £920. If I manage another 30 years at Prickly Nut Wood, the holly tree will have earned me £2120 and will still be growing to provide an income for the next woodland dweller. An oak could not fetch near to such a fee in 53 years of growth.

Ivy and mistletoe can also be harvested and sold. Ivy can be cut when it hangs in long garlands and these can be attractive in wreaths, as can the berries but like the holly, the berries are an important winter bird food, so harvest sparingly.

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(Mistletoe and berries)

Mistletoe can be cultivated as well as found in the wild. It uses the nutrients of the tree it grows in and is partially parasitic, which means it takes some of the energy from the tree. I harvest my mistletoe from a number of trees locally but I am now seeding some of my own apple trees and will begin cultivating mistletoe in them. Once established the mistletoe responds well to a hard prune and this can be carried out at the same time as you would prune the apple tree - cutting a cash crop while you carry out your winters pruning.

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(Bunches of mistletoe stand out in winter, these are growing on Lime)

If you then use your apple prunings as scion material for grafting new apple trees, you are adding real value to your winter’s fruit tree pruning experience - stacking functions.

Mistletoe is usually spread by birds (in particular the mistle thrush) who eat the berries. As the seed passes through the bird, it sticks to the bark of the tree where it lands. The white casing around the seed is like a natural glue making it easy to transfer berries to the tree you want to cultivate it on. The key to success is ensuring the berry is ripe, so avoid the seasonal festive mistletoe and wait until March before transferring the berries.

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