Variegated Holly: Plant Badge of the Clan MacKenzie
Updated: Nov 19
Clan MacKenzie symbols: The crest with the clan motto;
a MacKenzie tartan in the background;
and sprigs of variegated holly, the clan plant badge.
"He could, of course, announce that he did not mean to swear his oath to Colum, and head back to his warm bed in the stables. If he wanted a serious beating or his throat cut, that is. He raised an eyebrow at me, shrugged, and submitted with a fair show of grace to Willie, who rushed up with a pile of snowy linen in his arms and a hairbrush in one hand. The pile was topped by a flat blue bonnet of velvet, adorned with a metal badge that held a sprig of holly. I picked up the bonnet to examine it, as Jamie fought his way into the clean shirt and brushed his hair with suppressed savagery.
The badge was round and the engraving surprisingly fine. It showed five volcanos in the center, spouting most realistic flames. And on the border was a motto, Luceo non Uro.
'I shine, not burn,' I translated aloud.
'Aye, lassie: the MacKenzie motto,' said Willie, nodding approvingly at me.' "
-- OUTLANDER, by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 10, "The Oath-Taking"
According to lore, plants associated with individual Scottish clans are referred to as clan or plant badges. The European yew, for example, is the plant badge of Clan Fraser. It is said that clansmen wore sprigs of their badge attached to their caps. Women pinned plant badges to their tartan sashes at the shoulder. (If you have Scottish ancestry and are curious about what plant might be the badge for your clan go here to look it up.)
The Clan MacKenzie has two plant badges:
Deer's grass (also called heath club rush - sometimes confused with club moss) and Variegated holly.
I have not succeeded in tracking down the botanical name for deer's grass/heath club rush, so I am not sure what that plant is. If you are familiar with it, please leave me a comment.
The variegated holly, however, is quite easy to reference and find in the local landscape. In fact, here in the Northwest, we have two plants that go by the common name "variegated holly." One is an English holly with leaves that have cream-colored margins. The other is a member of the Osmanthus clan. Both have variegated foliage and prickly leaves.
Variegated English holly
Species: Ilex aquifolium 'Argenteo Marginata'
This is an evergreen shrub that can eventually become a small tree, up to 10-15 feet tall and 5-10 feet wide. These plants are quite hardy and do best in the northern part of the US. They produce white flowers in spring, followed by red berries in fall.
English holly berries contain high levels of certain alkaloids, along with caffeine and theobromine. They are regarded as poisonous to humans, although death by holly berry is rarely reported.
In her book, A Druid's Herbal, Ellen Evert Hopman has this to say about the magical uses of English holly, especially at the time of Winter Solstice.
"Holly, with it's warrior-like bristles, is known as an herb of protection. Cast it about to repel unwanted animals and spirits... Holly is one of the evergreens brought into the home by the Druids. It symbolizes a willingness to allow the nature spirits to share one's abode during the harsh, cold season."
Variegated holly (shown in photo above)
Species: Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki'
Native to Eastern Asia and southern Japan, this shrub's striking foliage makes it a desirable addition to the garden. In Japanese, "goshiki" means 5-colored - look for shades of cream, yellow, pink, white and orange in its foliage.
This variegated holly, sometimes called holly olive, is a slow growing, mound-shaped plant, eventually reaching 3-5 feet in height and width. Because of its compact, dense growth habit, it rarely needs pruning, which is a good thing, given the prickly foliage.
This plant produces clusters of tiny, white, fragrant flowers in late summer and early fall. They are followed by oval-shaped, purple fruits that mature about 9 months later.