plant in the subtropics. Most people think the flower on a plant is the bloom but these are actually colorful leaves called bracts, not the flower. The flowers on a poinsettia are actually the little yellow centers on the plant in the middle of the bracts. An abundance of colors is available if you’d like to try something other than the typical red, white and pink. Poinsettias come in spotted red and pink and marbled white and pink as well as salmon and plum. Some are even shaped as large open roses. There are also many variegated colors—colors that have streaks or patches of another color—that can match any décor or theme in your home. Jingle Bells, Peppermint, Plum Pudding, Pink Sparkle, Merlot, Christmas Angel and Santa Claus Cookie are just a few of the varieties available today. Poinsettias should be kept away from unsupervised small children and animals even though ingesting their leaves, bracts, and flowers—contrary to common belief —is not poisonous unless done so in large amounts (such as several plants, which is unlikely). The milky substance inside the plant however may cause burning and irritation if ingested.
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is also very popular this time of year and easy to keep year round. Christmas Cacti have tube-like blooms and flattened leaves with rounded teeth on the edges. This is different from Thanksgiving Cacti which have pointed teeth and Easter Cacti which have hairs on the leaf joints in addition to pointed teeth. Christmas Cactus is a succulent perennial native to the Central and South American rainforests. They will start blooming in early December and continue for a couple of months. These cacti are easy to care for and will thrive even if ignored. Many people over-water them which makes the buds fall off and ultimately kills them. Because of this, they should be planted in well drained soil and the roots should never sit in water. These are hardy plants that can give you beauty for decades so don’t discard them after they finish blooming. Place the plant in a cool dark location and water it once or twice a month. After a dormant period the plant will start budding and begin to bloom for you again. When you notice the buds beginning to form just pull the plant out and sit it in a bright but indirect sunny location.
Paperwhites (Narcissus) are easily the most fragrant Christmas plant, hence also the shortest lived. The more fragrant a flower the shorter its life span. Paperwhites come from bulbs and are usually forced to bloom during the winter months inside greenhouses. Once they’re home and reach room temperature it’s amazing to watch how fast a Paperwhite can grow and bloom. They can be planted in soil or just in gravel in a vase or a bowl. Place Paperwhites in a very bright sunny window to keep them from stretching and becoming weak and leggy. If that does happen, support them with green plant stakes. When forced indoors, they will usually start to bloom in three or four weeks. Bulbs that are forced indoors usually can be discarded because they won’t bloom again. To give your visitors a surprise, sit Paperwhites near doorways or entranceways. You can also place a plant in a small area, such as a sitting room, lavatory, foyer or hall. Your guests will get a whiff of sweetness each time they pass by.
Mother Nature has provided our region with plenty of natural beauty that can be brought inside to decorate your home with during the winter months. A simple walk through your property or nearby woods can yield Nandina berries, holly, several different varieties of pine and cedar, mistletoe, and more. All are elegant and simple to decorate with, can survive out of water for several hours or days, and don’t have to cost you a fortune. Evergreens and berries can be placed on your mantle, used as a centerpiece for your table or bar top, set outside on your porch in Christmas containers, or just dropped into vases or bowls and placed anywhere you need some Christmas cheer. If you are feeling really creative you can make a wreath or garland out of the greenery you have collected outside. All you need is a spool of thin gauged wire. Cut pieces of greenery six to eight inches long and wrap the wire around the stems of a variety of greens until you get the length or shape you are looking for.
In ancient times evergreens were associated with long life. They were also believed to ward off evil spirits because they remained green all year. People believed that hanging mistletoe indoors would protect their house from disaster. The Victorians loved the idea of stealing kisses under the mistletoe. After each kiss, a berry was removed. When the plant was bare, the kissing had to stop. The berries of mistletoe are poisonous to humans. Holly has an ancient story also. The prickly leaves on holly are said to symbolize the crown of thorns that Jesus wore and the red berries the blood he shed.
No matter how you celebrate the holidays, using Christmas plants and cut Christmas greens can be an easy way to decorate your home this season. The scent of plants, pine, and cedar welcomes friends and family and always seems to conjure up cozy memories of love and peace and happiness. If you have never considered using these plants or natural evergreens in your holiday decorating, now is the time to begin a beautiful family tradition. Let this year be the beginning of fond memories your children or grandchildren can pass on to the next generation.H