How Does Your Garden Grow?

Christmas plants and their history

By Katherine Clarkson
Posted 12/31/19

Following Christmas, holiday flowers and plants may continue to brighten your home. But what you may not know is the meaning behind popular Christmas plants. From ancient to contemporary times, the …

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Christmas plants and their history

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Following Christmas, holiday flowers and plants may continue to brighten your home. But what you may not know is the meaning behind popular Christmas plants. From ancient to contemporary times, the poinsettia, Christmas cactus, mistletoe and Christmas wreath have a story that makes them beautiful like their appearances.

Perhaps the most iconic flower of the Christmas season is the brilliantly colored poinsettia, also called the Christmas Star. The association of this plant with Christmas comes from Mexican folklore, about two feeble children who gathered weeds from the side of the road to set at the altar on Christmas Eve. When the kids laid the weeds beside the manger, the congregation witnessed the plants burst into bright red blossoms. In addition to this belief, the Aztecs regarded the poinsettia to be a token of purity, good cheer, and success.

If you receive a poinsettia, it is best kept in bright but not direct light for six hours a day, keep the soil damp but not soaked, maintain a daytime temperature of 65-70 degrees and 60 degrees at night.

As for the Christmas cactus, it bears beautiful arches of flowers in shades of red, pink and white during the somber days of December. This attractive plant is a native to tropical zones and thrives as a household plant.

A popular myth about the plant is a Jesuit missionary named Father Jose struggled to teach the natives of Bolivia about the Bible and history of Christ. He was uncertain if they comprehended his lectures and on a lonesome Christmas Eve, he knelt at the altar seeking God’s guidance for teaching the natives. As he was praying, he heard voices singing a hymn he taught and as he approached the village, the children were marching into the church with armfuls of the vivid alluring blossoms of a Christmas cactus.

To maintain your Christmas cactus, follow these simple directions: put the plant in a well-lit sunny location away from direct hot air and keep the soil well drained. Water it when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch. This should keep your cactus in glorious bloom for the whole Christmas season.

While some plants take residence in a pot like poinsettia, others can be hung for décor. You generally notice the next popular plant hanging high in a room and loved ones kissing underneath it. This plant is the mistletoe. It derives the kissing tradition from a Norse legend. They considered the mistletoe a plant of peace and when enemies met under it they were obligated to suspend fighting for at least one day. This eventually was transitioned into the kissing tradition by the British in the 18th century. To keep your mistletoe looking fresh, store it in a cool place and mist it daily with cold water.

When speaking about the history of the Christmas wreath, there are two particular schools of thought. Hanging a wreath is presumed to emanate from the Romans who hung them on their doors after a victory in a battle. It was also believed a wreath hung on a door or window was an invitation to the spirit of Christmas to enter the home, bringing good luck and a favorable fortune. Christians later adopted this belief and modified it so the wreath represented the thorns worn by Christ on the cross and the tiny red berries represent Christ’s blood.

The evergreen which lives through all the seasons — including harsh winters such as we endure in Wyoming — represents continuous prosperity and life. To prolong the longevity of your wreath: store in a cool place until you are ready to hang it, then submerge the wreath in water. Spritz it with water daily so the cut stems have something to consume. 

No matter what your Christmas beliefs or traditions are, merry Christmas or happy holidays to you and your loved ones! Next month I will continue “How to Grow an Indoor Garden” and as always, if you have questions, comments or ideas, please email me at: katheineclarkson2@gmail.com.

 

(Katherine Clarkson is the president of the Park County Master Gardeners. She lives in Wapiti.)

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