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Canadian holly industry struggles to survive

Pressures ranging from Costco buyers to Martha Stewart have caused a serious slump in the traditional "holly jolly Christmas" business.

Changing tastes, ready-made decorations, plastic replacements and, this year, a weak American dollar, have combined to decimate the Canadian holly industry.

Thirty years ago, up to 50 Vancouver Island holly farms and about a dozen more in the Vancouver area supplied Canada and the U.S. Today, only a handful remain on the island, and one in the Fraser Valley. "The holly business has fallen dramatically," said Vince Van Randen of West Coast Floral Growers and Distributors.

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In the mid-1980s, the Surrey-based wholesaler sold about 180 10-pound boxes of holly a week from mid-November to Christmas.This year, about 30 boxes will be sent each week to shops in Western Canada, ending in early December.

At Hunter's Holly Farm, near Lantzville on Vancouver Island, owner Bob Blunden has four commercial customers, compared to 40 two decades ago. Why the falloff? "Because of artificial," he said.

As well, people aren't spending as much money, or time, on decorating, Mr. Van Randen said. "[They]just want to go to Costco and get a ready-made arrangement or to Wal-Mart [for]a $4.97 poinsettia."

Popular designers have also given holly the brush-off in favour of blueberry branches or juniper. "The hype over holly is gone."

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