Christmas invokes powerful feelings of joy, light, renewal and compassion. People around the world in multiple countries celebrate Christmas in their own traditional way. One common method of celebration includes decorating the home with greenery, lights, handmade decorations and other items. Several flowers and plants are popular during the Christmas season. The association of certain plants with the holiday developed through the Christian religion and the ability of some plants to flower during the colder months.
The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), or Christmas Star, came to the United States in 1825. The plant originates in Mexico and the Aztecs called the plant Cuetlaxochitl. A strong, bright red is the most popular color for the holiday, although poinsettias come in a range of colors, including cream, pink or white, to name a few. The poinsettia became associated with Christmas in Mexico through a legend that tells of a poor girl inspired by an angel to place weeds at the church’s altar in lieu of a gift. Cultivators grow poinsettias in an indoor fashion. The plant prefers shade during the hot part of the day and bright morning sun.
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) delivers pink, yellow, purple, white and red flowers. The plant’s native environment is tropical. Consequently, it does not tolerate drought conditions well. The plant can bloom at any time during the year and many people purchase it in a hanging basket. Christmas cacti can survive in low-light situations, although brighter light produces better blooms. The plants prefer soils that retain moisture, yet drain well. In order to bloom at Christmas-time, the plant prefers dark or low-light conditions for 12 hours each day.
The American holly (Ilex opaca) creates leathery leaves and produces white flowers with four petals during the spring season. It also produces red fruits that look like small berries that can cause severe nausea and vomiting; most people consider the fruits poisonous. The tree grows slowly and can live between 150 to 200 years. The holly’s association with Christmas reaches hundreds of years into the past. Planting the tree requires well-drained soil that is moist, acidic and organic. Winds and winter sun can damage the tree, so protecting it is important.
The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) has a long, rich and noble history. In the Middle Ages, herbalists used portions of the plant and became aware of its toxicity; the entire plant can cause illness. The legend of Madelon tells the story of a girl who visits Christ as a child. She does not have a gift and an angel touches the ground and produces the first Christmas rose for her to bring to Christ. This evergreen produces large flowers from December through April. The Christmas rose requires a temperate climate, although cultivators propagate the plant for indoor potting.
Ivy encompasses a range of plants, although they have one similarity: their creeping ability. This evergreen plant creeps along almost any surface and creates a striking cover on homes, fences and other items. The ancient Greeks used the plants as garland during religious ceremonies, although some cultures, including British culture, use ivy less than other plants due to its association with drinking. The plant requires moist soil with a pH range of acidic to alkaline. Ivy offers a relatively maintenance free greenery option.
Mistletoe—a parasitic plant—became associated with Christmas in the past when people spent ample time visiting each other’s homes. It was then customary to hang mistletoe above the entrance to a home and a female near the mistletoe would be fair game for a harmless kiss. Today, the tradition has dwindled, although many people have heard the phrase “a kiss under the mistletoe.” The parasitic nature of mistletoe makes propagation a challenge; the shrub requires a host tree. Collecting fully ripe seeds and propagating the plant between March and April produces the best results. People then place the seeds on the underside of their host tree using a sticky substance that occurs on the seeds. Placing 15 or more seeds on the host tree delivers a better chance of germination. Mistletoe is a slow-growing bush and it can take between four and five years for a new shrub to produce seeds.