Native Plant Profile...
American Holly is found in the wild primarily on
the eastern U.S. coast from Maine to Florida. It is sometimes called the
Christmas Holly or White Holly. It is primarily an understory tree in
the wild often found with pines. In many states it is illegal to remove
American Holly from the wild, due to over collection of the plant for
Form and Height: Holly can reach 40 feet in height
in full sun. Pyramidal in shape with branches to the ground.
Leaf: Simple, alternate, broad leaved and
evergreen. Leaves are elliptical in shape, 2”-4” long with spiny toothed
margin, leathery; being shiny above, pale below, often yellow beneath.
Leaves stay 2 to 3 years on the tree falling in spring pushed off by new
Flowers: Dioecious, with the small white-green
flowers 3 to 7 in a brunch, female flowers on separate tree are solitary. Blooms in late spring May to June. In order to get berries
important to plant both sexes. One male tree can pollinate several
female trees. They are pollinated by bees and even moths.
Fruit: A berry called a drupe, red sometimes
yellow, ¼’ in diameter with four seeds in each berry. Will stay on trees
thru winter, providing essential food for songbirds such as bluebirds.
Twigs: Slender, rust covered
Bark: Light gray, smooth at all ages although can
have small warts
Roots: Thick and fleshy
Soil: can tolerate dry to wet, prefers acidic
Growing Conditions: Slow growing, shade tolerant
Takes 4 to 7 years to produce berries.
Pests: Few insect pests
Wood: Pale, tough, often used in cabinet work
Shelter for Wildlife: The holly being evergreen
serves as year round cover for wildlife
Fruit Serves as Food for: Mourning Dove, Ruffed
Grouse, Bobwhite Quail, Wild Turkey, Eastern Bluebird, Catbird,
Yellow-shafted Flicker, Blue Jay, Mockingbird, Robin, Hermit Thrush,
Brown Thrasher, Towhee, Cedar Waxwing, Black Bear, Raccoon, Striped
Skunk, Fox and Gray squirrel, and White-footed Mouse.
Note: White-tailed deer while sometimes eat young
foliage and twigs.
Landscaping Notes: Holly can be used
as a foundation planting, hedge. Prune in the late summer. English Holly
(Ilex aquifolium) is taller. There are over 1,000 cultivars of American
Holly you can plant. Some suggestions are: Cobalt, Cardinal Hedge, Yule,
and Canary- which has a yellow berry.
Hollies planted by George
Washington at his home are still living, and it serves as the state tree
of Delaware. This plant was one of the first plants noted by the
Pilgrims in their early writings.
Maryland Wildlife: Northern Cardinal
Description: A medium size songbird, 8”-9” in
length Males are red with black mask on face. Females are light brown to
gray with red highlights on the wings and tail. The crest of feathers on
top of the head is found in both species and very distinctive. Bills are
thick, conical and reddish in adult birds. Males are slightly larger.
Immature birds look like females but have a gray- black bill.
Range: Found year round in Maryland. Non-migratory,
they will move locally, with birds leaving woods and forming loose
flocks in open areas. Southern Canada to Mexico and to the central
mid-west is the bird’s natural range. Over the past 100 years Cardinals
have expanded to the north as human modification to the environment,
such as the planting of fruit bearing trees and shrubs, have made it more
Voice: Whistle like cheer-cheer-cheer is heard in
the late winter, chips serve as an alarm. Both sexes sing. Female will
sing on the nest. It is thought she does this to inform the male of her
food needs and status of the nest.
April thru August with May being the peak
in the mid-Atlantic .These birds can nest as early as March and as late
as early September, Produce 2 to 3 broods a year. Three to four white to
green eggs as laid in a cup nest, made of thin twigs, bark and brass,
lined with grass. Nest is low, no more than 10 feet off the ground in a
thicket, hedge or vines. Eggs are incubated by the female for 12 days.
Young will stay in the nest for 10 more days before leaving. Male bird
brings food to the nest, which are insects to feed both the young and
the female. After the young leave the nest they are still feed by their
parents for about 25 more days. Juvenile birds form flocks until
breeding season the following spring. Birds are monogamous, and
sometimes mate a second year.
Habitat: A generalist, who uses woodland under
story, thickets, woodland edges, and residential areas planted with
fruiting shrubs and trees. Not usually found in deep forest.
Food: Cardinals eat both plant and animals for
food. Feeds primarily on the ground, although will also eat on low
perches. Animal food consists of grasshoppers, bugs, and caterpillars.
Young are feed entirely an animal diet primarily of insects. Very
diverse plant food diet, but especially wild fruits, weed seeds and
cultivated grains. The fruit and seeds of grape, smartweed, corn,
dogwood, Mulberry, Sumac, Tulip tree, Viburnum, Serviceberry, Ragweed,
Greenbrier, Ash, Black berry and Wild Cherry are some of the preferred
foods. At the bird feeder, sunflower seeds are the favorite.
Did You Know?
Cardinals are also known as Red
Birds, Va. Nightingales, Va. Red Birds Top-Knot Redbirds and Crested
This bird DOES NOT USE NEST BOXES.
Lives about 1 to 2 years in the wild although some
have been found to be over 10 years old.
This is the primary bird that raises the parasitic
Eats a number of insects that are harmful to crops,
such as cut-worms.
Seven states have the Cardinal as their state bird.
Male birds are so territorial that if they see a
reflection of themselves they will attack it, a common happening with
picture windows near their home.
Named after their color and crest resembling the
hat and clothing worn by the clergy.
The brighter red a male Cardinal is the more
reproductive success it will have.
This bird serves as the mascot of many sport teams.
Cozy in the Cold: Winter Wild Acres
Activity for the Children
This activity helps
children understand how animals use parts of their
environment to protect them from cold and windy winter
Prior to doing this talk to your child
about what animals stay active all year long and those that
hibernate. Talk about where snakes go, as compared to a deer
curling up in a shallow depression with its back against a
snow bank or fallen log to avoid the wind, Mice might find
an empty bird box to hide in. Some animals will move into
the shelter of a stand of trees at night.
You Will Need:
four or five 35 mm empty plastic
film canisters or something similar with a lid
liquid gelatin or dry Jell-O powder
dissolved in water
a watch with a second hand.
Mark the film canisters at the
Fill each film canister half full
with the gelatin or Jell-O mixture.
Have your children read about
animals in your area that hibernate, and those that stay
active all winter.
Take the children outside to a spot
you have selected. Give them 10 to 15 minutes to look
for suitable hibernating or sleeping places for the
creatures they have learned about (deer, snake, and
groundhog) The spot must be one their animal would use.
Give each child a film canister and
have them go quickly to their chosen sleeping or
On a signal from you, the canisters
[representing the animals] are placed in their spots.
Begin timing at the signal. As a comparison, leave one
canister in an open, unprotected spot on top of the snow
Have your children take their
sleeping animal’s temperature frequently to see how long
it takes for the gelatin to freeze. Have them or you
record the data. Repeat the process in different spots
using cleaned and refilled canisters.
Afterwards, chart the time it took
for each creature to freeze and the type of sleeping
spot where it was located.
Talk about the results. Which
sleeping spot worked best, and why? What other
adaptations might have helped to keep the animals from
Variation: Have the children test the same
sleeping spots this time wrapping various insulations around
their “animals”, such as a woolen sock, feathers, or fur.
Chart and compare the results. You might want to have your
children illustrate a poster with some of the places
wildlife species use to find shelter from winter weather.
After doing this activity have the
children decide what needs to be improved on your Wild Acres
to provide better winter cover. Check out the Wild Acres web
site for ideas on what to plant or build to accomplish this.
A special thanks to the Canadian
Wildlife Federation from which this activity was adapted
from their “Below Zero “activity guide.
Mammals in Winters
While turtles, frogs, and salamanders hibernate in the mud
below the frost line and many birds migrate south from your Maryland Wild
Acre mammals are here throughout the year.
mammals’ coats become thicker to insulate them from the cold temperatures.
Most put on fat to insulate and provide energy for the period of cold and
lack of food. Some will hibernate the entire time; many will go into
inactive periods of sleep but will wake from time to time if the temperature
warms up to eat.
Some mammals mate in the winter, and give
birth in the spring when food is more plentiful.
Here is a brief outline of mammals you
might find on your Wild Acres or in your area:
White-tailed Deer - Active all winter,
deer will often curl up in a shallow depression with its back against a
snow bank or fallen log to be protected from the wind. Deer have narrow
hoofs that can cut through the crust of snow. Have a winter coat.
Black Bear - Will go into a resting
sleep often called "denning". Not a true hibernation as they will
sometimes wake up and go outside if there is a warm spell. Female does
give birth to her young while in this dormant state.
Red and Gray Fox. Active all winter.
Will stay in a den for a day or so in severe weather. Fox will curl
tightly into a ball with the bushy tail wrapped around its head and
body. Thick fur will help insulate from the snow.
Long-tailed and Least Weasels - Active
all winter. These animals will turn white in the winter except in
southern parts of their range. They will cache small rodents to eat
Eastern Chipmunk - Does not hibernate,
but goes through a period of inactivity called torpor. Will occasionally
awaken to eat food from its food cache.
Meadow Jumping Mouse - True
hibernator, stays in a sleep until early spring
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit - Active all
winter. Will often make a shallow depression inn the ground to sit,
usually in a thicket or hedgerow. Does not change the color of its coat
like its relative the Snow-shoe Hare which turns white in the winter to
help it blend in winter surroundings from its predators.
Squirrels - Active all winter. They will den up in severe weather for a
day or two and rely on nut caches.
Short-tailed Shrew - This small
predator is active year round. It stuns its prey with a toxin that does
not kill the prey but immobilizes it and puts it into a comatose state.
The shrew will cache this prey in an abandoned mouse nest and use it for
fresh food three to five days.
Bats - Some migrate from the area but
others hibernate. Very important to leave hibernating bats alone so as
not to wake them and cause them to expend energy that they cannot
replace when no food sources are available in the winter.
Opossum - Active all winter. Will den
up for a day or two in severe weather. In it its northern range can
experience frost bite on its tail and ears.
Raccoon - Active all winter. Has a
heavy winter coat. Mates in the late winter.
Beaver, Muskrat, Mink and River Otter
- These aquatic mammals are active all winter. They have thick winter
coats. Mate in the winter to give birth to young in the spring.
Flying squirrels, voles and various
mice species - Will group huddle in the winter to keep warm. Many of
these species are solitary the rest of the year.
Groundhog - True hibernator. Can go
into hibernation as late as early December and come out of it in
February, although not necessarily Groundhog Day!
This winter get a field guide to animal
tracks such as the Peterson Field Guide and take a walk after a snow to see
how many tracks and other signs you can find on these mammals. You will be
amazed how active they are. Remember the more habitat you have the more you
For additional winter activities for
children in nature,
visit DNR's Children in
If you enjoyed this issue of Habichat, you might want to check out
our online back issues and clickable listing of Habichat articles.
Click here for online back issues.
Photograph of American Holly Tree courtesy of Larry
Stritch, US Forest Service
Photograph of American Holly Flowering courtesy of
Jeff McMillian @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Photograph of Male Northern Cardinal, iStock image
Photograph of Female Northern Cardinal, iStock image
Photograph of girl walking in snow, iStock image
Photograph of Weasel in Snow, iStock image
Photograph of Grey Squirrel, iStock image
Here is a listing of phone numbers, web sites and organizations that you might find helpful or interesting in your search for ideas to manage your wild acres.
DNR Online... Inspired by nature!
Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at
backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North
America. FeederWatchers periodically count the highest numbers of each
species they see at their feeders from November through early April.
FeederWatch helps scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird
populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. Project
FeederWatch is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in partnership
with the National Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada, and Canadian
Nature Federation. http://birds.cornell.edu/pfw
National Wildlife Federation - Details on their backyard habitat program www.nwf.org or call them at 1-800-822-9919.
Native plants - The Maryland Native Plant Society offers information dedicated to protecting, conserving and restoring Maryland's native plants and habitats, visit them at
Maryland Cooperative Extension offers home and garden information, tips publications, plant problems, Bay issues, and other links at
Their Home and Garden Information number is statewide and can be reached at
1-800-342-2507, and from outside Maryland at 1-410-531-1757.
Bioimages, a project of
Vanderbilt University, provides educational information to the public on
biologically related topics, as well as a source of biological images for
personal and non-commercial use.
Maryland's "Becoming an Outdoors - Woman Program "- One of the topics covered in the three-day workshops is Backyard Wildlife. For more information on this program contact
Patty Allen at
send e-mail to:
For a free wildlife & native
plant newsletter, visit the WindStar Wildlife Institute at
and subscribe to the WindStar Wildlife Garden Weekly e-newsletter. You can
also visit this website to learn how you can become a certified wildlife habitat
For more information on butterflies - visit the North American Butterfly Association at
Warm season grasses and wild meadows for upland nesting birds visit Pheasants
Forever at www.pheasantsforever.org or e-mail: