Don’t Just Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly!
Here in the UK, we associate the Christmas season with pink cheeks, cold hands and runny noses. While our Christmas spirit makes us particularly resilient to such adverse weather conditions, you may be surprised to hear that most traditional Christmas plants are not so hardy! Many Christmas plants are tropical plants and are actually very well suited for our cosy winter homes and offices.
Here are our Top 10 Christmas plants to help you choose which flora you wish to rescue from the cold!
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)
It’s hard to imagine, but Christmas season in the Southern hemisphere is actually pretty warm. In these warmer climates, the traditional Christmas tree is not always a suitable option and so those living in Africa, Australia and some Latin American countries have developed their own version of the traditional tree – the Christmas Cactus. This popular winter-flowering houseplant has flowers that hang down like Christmas ornaments from the ends of the leaves.
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
Indigenous to Central America and Mexico, the red and green poinsettia is one of the most recognisable Christmas plants. They are unique in that the ‘flowers’ of the plant are actually the leaves. Nowadays, it is not unusual to see the plants dyed, painted or even covered in sparkles!
Amaryllis (Amaryllis belladonna)
Red Amaryllis are typically used as a statement Christmas centrepiece. However, the plant actually comes in colours ranging from white, to pink, to orange and in a variety of patterns including ones resembling a Christmas candy cane.
Radish (Raphanus sativus)
It may come as a surprise, but radishes are also a Christmas plant! Bear with me here…. On 23rd December in Oaxaca in Mexico, there is a celebration called Noche de Rabanos (“Night of the Radishes” funnily enough!). In the celebration, radishes are cut and carved into religious or cultural figures, especially those pertaining to Christmas. Quite a nice, creative and resourceful idea!
Mistletoe (Viscum album)
Although once frowned upon (and at one point banned) by the Christian church, mistletoe is still one of the most common plants used as decoration in the festive season. The Druids considered the plant sacred and it’s value has not waned, for now it provides an excuse for stolen kisses…
Christmas Trees (Pinus)
I don’t think you’ll forget about this one! A relatively modern, yet extremely popular, addition to the British Christmas is decorating a tree (fir, spruce, pine or other evergreen trees). The tradition originated in Germany, and spread elsewhere during the 19th century.
With its bright red berries and green leaves, few plants look as festive as holly. Holly is found in wreaths, pictured on cards and on top of Christmas puddings. The origin of the holly outlives Christianity, dating back to the Druids who thought holly symbolised everlasting life. Christians adopted the plant as a symbol of Jesus’ promise of everlasting life.
Ivy’s association with Christmas, along with Holly’s, is one of the longest standing. For our Celtic ancestors, Ivy was the Goddess who kept life going through the harsh winter months, and Holly was her God. The plants continued to be intertwined throughout history, with the famous Christmas carol “The Holly and the Ivy” published in 1710. They are still used together today as decoration.
Christmas Rose (Helleborous niger)
Confusingly, this is not a rose at all but a decorative, winter-flowering and frost-resistant Hellebore! So why is it called a Christmas Rose? The name originated from an old legend that the flower sprouted from the tears of a young girl who had no gift to give Jesus in Bethlehem.
Wheat sheaves (Triticum spp.)
In the lead up to Christmas in Ukraine, children look out for the first star in the eastern evening sky in memory of the trek the three wise men made. When this is seen, the head of the household brings in a wheat sheaf known as a didukh, a symbol of abundance, a good harvest, fertility, and closeness to the earth and her resources. It is tied with colourful thread and kept as a decoration in homes.