Sunday, January 4, 2015

Plant story-- Holly, holy and Hollywood, a Holly Postscript

In researching English (or European) holly Ilex aquifolium (holly family, Aquifoliaceae) I generated questions and here are the answers to two that puzzled me:
1) Is the word holly derived from holy?
2) Is Hollywood, California named for a grove of European holly trees?

1) Is the word holly derived from holy?

Although it seems logical that the name holly is a version of holy, since holly has been for hunderds of years been a part of midwinter religious celebrations, by both Christians and pagans, there is no relation. The two words have different origins. Holly is from Old English holenholegn, from hollin, which meant the holly plant, as far back as it can be traced. Holy, on the other hand, is from Old English hálig inviolate, inviolable.
European holly, Ilex aquifolium
European holly, Ilex aquifolium
2) Is Hollywood, California, named for a grove of European holly trees?

When googling holly, Hollywood often came up. Hollywood could easily be a grove of European holly trees. However, European holly would have had to have been imported and planted in southern California by the1870s for the town to have been built in or near a holly wood. That seemed unlikely and sent me in pursuit of the relationship of holly to Hollywood.

There are several theories of how Hollywood, California was named and three different people have been given credit. What I am trying to work out is not who named it Hollywood, but WHY they named it Hollywood. Were there hollies there? 

Some websites suggest that Hollywood, California was named for either Hollywood, Illinois (which has now become Brookfield, IL) or Hollywood, Florida. That doesn't work: Hollywood, CA is older than the other two; Hollywood, CA 1887, Hollywood IL 1893, Hollywood FL 1920s (links in references below). 

H.H. Wilcox registered the name for a new development in 1887. He reported his wife suggested the name. The story is that, crossing the country, Daeida Wilcox met a woman on the train who had a summer home in Hollywood IL. Liking the name, when she returned to California she named her property Hollywood (link). However, as far I can tell there was no Hollywood, IL in the 1880s (see above). That doesn't preclude someone in the Chicago area naming their home Hollywood. But why would they have done that? If the Hollywood, IL area really had hollies, pretty much the only holly, that can grow there is American holly, Ilex opaca. American holly which might have occurred in bottomlands around Chicago. Chicago is at the northern tip of American holly's range, which makes it less likely. Illinois was a prairie state before settlement, with trees only in protected or wet places. Currently it is hard to grow any kind of holy in Chicago (see link holly in Chicago). However, none of that prevents Mrs. Wilcox from being inspired by something in the conversation and applying the name Hollywood to her land in California. But why holly?

The Father of Hollywood website argues that H. J. Whitley, southern California developer, named Hollywood while on his honeymoon in 1886. The website says (link, Jan 22, 2011 entry)

"[When] HJ Whitley came to California in the late 1800’s he stood on a hillside overlooking a fertile valley of orchards and farms and dreamed of what he could develop here. 
It was at that moment that a Chinese immigrant approached driving a wagon pell mell towards the Whitleys. Whitley asked, “What are you doing here?” The Chinese man answered in broken English, “Work hard, hauley wood.” There he sat in a wagon full of wood being hauled to town. And that is how the “Entertainment Capital of the World” got its name!"

That is very cute, but why was the name written holly when it was registered?

The story is more complex. Whitley's wife's actual diary is online (see link) and in it Gigi Whitley told the story a little differently and spelled it "holly". 

So I'll offer an alternative, that the Chinese immigrant, John, said that his wagon was loaded with holly wood (see below).

The name Hollywood is also attributed to Ivar Weid, a Dane who settled in the area in the 1860s. In the piece of Mrs. Whitley's diary that is online, her husband proposes to go to Weid and develop the area with him, which suggests they agreed on the name.

Water and Power Associates' history of the area, connects this all by suggesting that the name was Whitley's, Weid learned of it and liked it, Mrs. Wilcox learned of it from Weid and her husband H.H. Wilcox was the first to register it, in 1887. (link)

But again, why holly?

In the 1880s, the area that became Hollywood, California was close to a Holly Canyon. Older than Hollywood, Holly Canyon no longer exists: it was flooded to form Lake Hollywood in the 1920s (link). 

Why was the canyon called Holly Canyon? 

English holly (Ilex aquifolium) has been introduced to California, but without irrigation, the area around Hollywood is too dry for it. None of the native American hollies, genus Ilex, are native in California. 

The answer is similar-looking species, native to California.

Almost certainly Holly Canyon was named for the quite spectacular California holly, also called Christmas berry, and today toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia. Despite the small red fruits and evergreen leaves, toyon is not related to European holly (Ilex aquifolium, Aquifoliaceae) but rather to roses (rose family, Rosaceae). 

Toyon is native only to California (USDA distribution) and can grow to be a small tree (20', more than 6 m.), though it is usually smaller. It makes spectacular displays of evergreen leaves and red berries (pomes, like tiny apples, actually) that would have very much impressed settlers in California. See wonderful photos at Google.  It was common in the California hills and probably grew abundantly in and on Holly Canyon. 

All the namers of Hollywood would have seen the hollies (toyons) of Holly Canyon and would have found the name both appropriate and appealing.  

I find it very satisfying that the holly that Hollywood is named for is a native California plant. 

Comments and corrections welcome.

Cahill, L. How did Hollywood get its Name? link accessed 12/24/2014
History of Hollywood, Il accessed 12/20/14
HJ 1886 name Hollywood
"Holly, n" Oxford English Dictionary online. accessed 12/20/14
"Holy, n., adj." Oxford English Dictionary online. accessed 12/20/14
Hightower, S. Heteromeles arbutifolia-toyon. Sonoma master gardener.  link accessed 12/26/14
Heteromeles arbutifolia Christmas berry Natural History of California accessed 12/26/14
Water and Power Associates History link

Buy the Book! Give it as a gift! This story and thirteen other plants from around the world are told in Curious Stories of Familiar Plants from Around the World. Available on Amazon link

Kathy Keeler

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this information, it was very through and interesting!