Winter Hollys

While as we noted in our Christmas presentation, Holly and Mistletoe’s associations with Christmas came through pagan practices, they are still created by God and thus worthy of our study.  The Holly family contains three genera, mostly concentrated in one genus, IlexIlex contains a large number (exact count depends on whose data you use) of species of plants that range in size from towering trees to tiny shrubs.  There has been little done in creationist circles with botany as a whole, or with Hollies in particular.  It’s time they were examined in greater detail.

Hollies have existed, even according to the evolutionists since the end of the Cretaceous period, approximately 66 million years ago.   They have remained relatively unchanged since that time. Hardly surprising from a creationist worldview, though we would take issue with the dates.  Based on the fossil finds, of which there is no small number though they are mostly pollen fossils,  even in the pre-flood world, hollies remarkably similar to the current species were found worldwide.  Evolutionary phylogenies disagree with one another on where the hollies originated. Further, geographic mapping of fossil pollen finds shows no clear progression over time from location to location.  According to the evolutionary timeline, the first holly pollen is found in Africa and Australia.  The next layers show pollen in North America and Southeast Asia. There is no progression out of Africa and the pollen fossils never reappear in Africa,, yet modern Africa does have a few species of holly present.  However, the Southeast Asian population does seem to spread through Asia and Europe and back into Australia. Mysteriously, however, hollies pop up in  South America, before the American continents were connected in the evolutionary view.

The evolutionary explanation for this strange distribution pattern of fossils is a system of range expansions and contractions in response to climate changes, particularly after the dinosaur extinction.  There is probably a certain amount of truth to this, depending on when you place the flood on the geologic column.  However, the discovery of pollen in South America before the Americas were supposedly connected is very troubling for this view.  The 2005 paper from which much of the range data I present is derived( link below) makes no effort to deal with this issue. How exactly hollies ended up in South America in the Paleocene and Eocene seems to be at least a mild problem for evolutionary biogeography.  A post-flood scenario seems the best possible explanation for the distribution of these fossils.

Within the holly family, there are several main groupings. Obviously, there are trees and shrubs, but there are other groupings as well. For example, some hollies have male and female plants. Others do not.  Some have the traditional spiny leaves. Others lack the spines entirely. Some species have glossy, waxy leaves. Others have much plainer leaves.  In horticulture, they tend to be grouped by leaf style into four groups: The English hollies which are the traditional glossy leaved spiny variants, American hollies which have spines but much less glossy leaves, Chinese hollies which lack spines but has glossy leaves, and Hybrid hollies which are an assortment catching all other variants.

Given that hollies have been extensively captively bred, as well as extensively diversified in the wild,  the challenge for the creationist baraminologist is not so much determining which hollies are of the same kind.  Horticulture has done much of this work for us.  A 2010 Swiss phylogeny of hollies makes the case that all nearly 500 species come from a single common holly ancestor, which makes sense in a creationist view.  However, this same paper points out that studies have shown hollies have very poor reproductive barriers, and hybridization is frequent, even in the wild.  This seems to indicate that the members of the holly family are all members of the same created kind.

This does leave another question unanswered, however, and that is, how did so much variety come about in one family? There are a couple of possible answers. One could be mutations, but this seems unlikely, at least for all traits. It is possible a type of gigantism or dwarfism appeared in the population which was not majorly deleterious and was fixed as the hollies speciated after the flood. The differences in fruit color and size could be both allelic and mutational. The same goes for leaf sizes, shapes, and glossiness. Any single one of these could be explained by mutational changes.  All three changing that way seems a bit unlikely.  The male and female trees seem to have been hardwired in the beginning. The development of non-sex-differentiated trees could be the result of polyploidy happening post-fall.  Alternatively, diploidization of the created polyploid genome could have created male and female trees. Created polyploidy is an option to account for the diversity of this family. However, cytogenetic studies in this family are hard to come by. There are a few studies that make reference to polyploid holly but nothing (at least that I could find freely available) that give definitive numbers on how many members of the family are polyploid. Thus we cannot make a definitive statement on created polyploidy.

The third option, which I freely admit requires a lot more speculation than the others, is fixed epigenetic changes.  This would involve epigenetic changes persisting for more than a few generations which they have not been shown to do as yet.  The changes would have to become fixed in a population to result in new traits such as taller plants, or variable fruit colors.  To the best of my knowledge, epigenetics does not mediate male and female production however, so fixed epigenetic changes could not produce the trees with different sexes. That remains a mutational or ploidal change.

Unfortunately, like much else in botany, information necessary to correctly understand the life history of hollies is sorely lacking.  Until such information is available, we are forced to rely on inference.  As such I will make no predictions about how hollies were created, other than tentatively assigning them as their own baramin. However, I will make two testable predictions. If hollies were created polyploid, then we should expect that the diploidized species today would be the plants that have differentiated sex trees. If they were created diploid, we should see polyploids be less common than diploids in the baramin.  Learning the answers to those two questions would go a long way to resolving the holly baraminological and taxonomical dilemma.


Papers discussed


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