Deck the halls - can you name 10 of the most festive plants at Christmas time?
Plants form some of the strongest icons of Christmas. There are many festive characters that can be disputed, (Santa does
exist of course) but others lie at the roots of Decembers festivities. Let's look at some of the most popular.
Holly and Ivy
Holly with its red berries is one of the strongest icons of the festive season.
What would we do at Christmas without holly and ivy
? These have been used since pre-Christian times to celebrate the turning of time. They mark the passing of the shortest day of the year.
The winter solstice festival has long been an opportunity to acknowledge the darkest days, appreciating that lighter times will follow. Bringing evergreen foliage indoors celebrates life and reassures people that new growth will soon be sprouting. The prickly leaves of holly
represent the crown of thorns that Jesus is said to have worn during the crucifixion and the berries are said to be like the drops of his blood. Holly was once thought to be a male plant, with ivy
being the female. The two were therefore bound together in a wreath,
and some say that the ivy clings in a way that people should cling to the message of god for support.
Laurel leaves - either Laurus nobilis, the bay laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, the cherry laurel, or even Aucuba japonica as in the photo, are all invaluable during the festive season.
Of course, the laurel
wreath symbolises victory and at Christmas it suggests that god has triumphed over the devil. Whatever its religious connotations, laurel is a great evergreen for decorating the home during the festive season. At a time when new growth is rarely abundant, evergreen plants are the stalwarts of the garden and bringing them into the home reminds everyone that spring is coming.
Conifers, including fir and yew
The humble Christmas tree. A truly festive sight - and there's nothing better than a real fir to bring the season alive.
These evergreens are invaluable. The Christmas tree
itself is generally a type of fir. But what is a fir tree? It describes Abies,
a genus of more than 50 species of coniferous trees. Norway spruce
, or Picea abies is the basic Christmas tree but there are plenty of others including the silver fir,
Abies alba, the Nordmann fir
, Abies nordmanniana, and the noble fir
which is Abies procera. They make great little trees
for decorating! But beware, if you buy a rooted tree and then plant it in the garden, it is likely to eventually grow very, very large.
Mistletoe! Hang some up during the festive season and see if you can catch a kiss.
We all know what you are meant to do underneath it, but do you know why? The story of the kissing bough or bunch probably dates back to a Norse legend which tells how the son of a goddess was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe.
His grieving mother, Frigga, wept tears of white berries and they brought her son, Balder, back to life. Frigga therefore blessed the plant and promised that all who passed under it would kiss from that day onwards.
Rosemary is the friendship plant and that's something we all need. Not just during the festive season but throughout the year too.
You might not realise that this aromatic herb was thought to have been the virgin Marys favourite plant. People believed that rosemary could protect them from evil spirits. It was the main garnish for use with wild boar and this was the Christmas meal served most commonly at banquets during the Middle Ages. It was often known as the friendship plant and the remembrance herb to help people remember the birth of Jesus.
Pine cones make great festive decorations! Spray them gold and silver and include them in table decorations, wreaths and swags.
Pine cones are used in Christmas decorations,
often being sprayed with gold and silver and placed within table decorations and wreaths. But did you know that the things that people call pine cones are not always from pine trees? All conifers produce cones. It is at the heart of their name and their way of reproducing.
Pine cones make great decorations for the festive season!
Conifers produce both male and female cones, sometimes on the same tree and other times on separate trees, depending on the tree species. Each cone contains multiple seeds that are released when mature. Pine nuts come from the pine cones of pine trees and these are quite difficult to extract. Around 20 different pine trees produce seeds which are deemed large enough for harvesting. Most pine seeds are edible but too small to be worth the effort on a commercial basis.
Poinsettias are icons of the festive season. Just make sure yours doesn't get frosted on the way home as they need the warmth of a cosy home.
Poinsettieas are such cheerful plants with their bright red flowers, which are actually bracts. Euphorbia pulcherrima is a house plant that flowers in December and January it looks as if it has been specially designed for Christmas! Its surprisingly easy to look after.
First used over 100 years ago, these Mexican beauties are reputed to have been picked by a poor local boy who was unable to afford a present to take to church. He plucked a few colourful red flowers on his journey and everyone admired their festive glory.
How to keep them going? Keep them in bright but filtered light. Dont over-water. Allow them a dormancy period after the main flowering period has passed and consider pruning and re-potting when you get them going again.
Christmas cactus, or Schlumbergera, make really popular gifts at Christmas.
is a highly popular winter-flowering house plant that has blooms which hang downwards, almost like Christmas decorations. These naturally grow in jungle-type environments where they are epiphytes that attach themselves to trees. They therefore enjoy high humidity which you can achieve by standing the plant on a bed of gravel or damp stones. There are so few plants that flower at Christmas thats not difficult to see why these make wonderful gifts.