Season’s Greening’s: Christmas and New Year most known plants
Season’s Greening’s: Christmas and New Year most known plants
By Elie Ziadeh
Plants have always been taking an important part in the celebrations, occasions, and festivities. For example, red roses are used for valentine’s Day and weddings, while hydrangeas, lily of the valley, and tulips are purchased for Mother’s Day, etc…
As for the end of the year festivities, Christmas and New Year, poinsettias, holly, and mistletoes are massively used for a seasonal landscape along with Christmas fir and spruce.
Asking where did they come from? How did they cross the nativity traditions? Wondering how to take care of them? The following lines will briefly expose their astonishing story with some useful care tips and facts.
Originally native to the Mexican lands belongs to the spurges (Euphorbiaceae), a wide botanical family including the Castor plant, the African milk cactus, the Crown of Thorns, and others. Scientifically named Euphorbia pulcherrima, the second name “pulcherrima” comes from Latin and means “the most beautiful”. In Spain, it’s called Flor de Pascua aka Easter flower, while in Mexico, it’s called Flor de Noche Buena and that means the flower of the good night referring to Christmas eve.
- The Legend of Pepita: The Mexican legend says that long ago, a poor girl, Pepita, had
no decent gift for the divine child on Christmas Eve. Falling in sadness, she went gathering side street weeds when her cousin, Pedro, told her that the coming savior accepts any humble present given with much love and charity. While stepping the church way to the crib she felt embarrassed for her low qualified bouquet. Remembering Pedro’s words, she knelt dropping the bunch in front of the scene. Suddenly, the leaves turned into red starred flowers in front of all the attendants’ eyes, witnessing a Christmas Eve miracle.
- The name origin: The plant owes its name to the American diplomat Joel R. Poinsett back in the nineteenth century. While on ministry to Mexico, he was charmed by the plant and he was the first to introduce it to his hometown, South Carolina, then to propagate in his greenhouses to the USA and then to the world. The first Arab country propagating poinsettia was Egypt, where the plant is called “Bint al Qunsul” i.e. the daughter of the consul, allocating Minister Poinsett.
- The red color mystery: The red velvet color of the leaves was originally observed in its native land, Mexico, centuries ago where bracts, not to be confused with the flowers which are the small centered yellow panicles, change their color during mid-winter when the light hour’s quantity decreases, inducing a red or another color to the modified leaves on top. To bring the upper bracts out of green into the red or any other natural color, depending on the variety: yellow, pink, white, etc… the greenhouses all over the world tend since September to put all their cuttings to darkness up to fourteen hours a day, by shading and activating their light sensors and timers.
Accordingly, the color on the top plant is ready for retail.
- Gardening care tips: “We just received or bought a Christmas plant, a colorful poinsettia!” What’s the best location? How to keep it in shape? When to water? Poinsettias are full sun plants, they even grow to be trees in nature. Make sure to place it in maximum light exposure if indoor, near a window or a balcony. For watering, keep the soil always wet, the soil surface might seem dry yet the pot bottom might be moist. In case of dryness, the better way to irrigate is by soaking the pot in a container filled to its half for fifteen minutes so the soil takes what it needs through osmosis. You may as well water by pouring water from above until it runs freely from the holes. Make sure to discard water from the saucer or cache-pot. Avoid overwatering and avoid rinsing the bracts especially when indoor.
- Holidays are over, what to do with the plant? After New Year, you may either transplant poinsettias to your garden as ornamental or keep them potted with care for the next season. In the case of the plantation, make sure the spot is sunny in a coastal and warm location. On the other hand, poinsettias shall be kept for the next season. Make sure you keep watering properly in a plentiful side of light. Avoid temperature drop, frost, and overwatering. Wait until the plant drops its leaves, cut the stems and branches to the third, and reduce watering to half. After the first sprouts and leaves appear, start applying fertilizers every month and maintain a well-watered soil. To provoke the red color again, place the plant into darkness for fourteen hours a day, in an aerated place, ten weeks before Christmas week.
Native to Europe, western and southern Asia, a member of sandalwoods (Santalaceae). The Latin name is Viscum album, for the white viscous berries the plant produces.
- Where does the “Mistletoe” name come from? It was believed a long time ago, that Viscum seeds only germinate after that, birds feeding on berries, release their droppings, enclosing the seed itself touring their tracts, on the tree’s bark. Therefore, the non-romantic mistletoe syntax is nothing but a translation to the process of dropping their dung on the twig.
- How does the mistletoe live? Mistletoes are hemiparasitic and epiphytic plants, just like some tropical orchids hanging on woods. The seed germinates and therefore the growing plant lives on the bark of the tree branches, never in soil. The parasitic side of the plant is to penetrate its roots until the tree branches vessels to extract the water and nutrients inflow. On the other hand, the plant through its green leaves practices photosynthesis to make a part of its food, consequently, makes the plant not dependent on the host to live. Mistletoes from rounded tufts around the branch neck, bloom, and produce white fruits just like berries to attract a wide range of animals, birds in particular.
- How Mistletoe is linked to the New Year? Mistletoes are frequently found on fruiting trees like apple, cherry, and pear, moreover on trees like poplars, hawthorns, and willows. They are rarely found on oaks and elms, and that’s where the symbolism comes from. For that reason, Celtics Druids worshiped the occurrence of mistletoe on oak branches. For them, this plant had medicinal and sacred virtues: a soul purifier, a fertility booster, and many other virtues. They used to, on the sixth day of the winter solstice, harvest the branch with a golden sickle, avoiding any seed to touch soil believing in the sanctity of both the plant and the procedure. Therefore, the procedure of harvesting mistletoes on oak stems was called the Winter Solstice Festival. Besides, while cutting the wood they prayed the following expression « O GhelanHeu » which means “let the wheat germinate”. This expression had evolved through ages and years to reach its final version “Bonne et heureuseannée” aka Happy New Year.
- A symbol for unity: The fact that the plant bonds to its host and surrounds it perfectly, it became a universal symbol for unity, friendship, relationships, and protection. Consequently, twigs are hanged on the entrance doors to bring luck to the families. They are hanged as well on babies’ cribs for protection. And perhaps, what’s commonly known for mistletoe is the couple’s kiss and wishes under its canopy.
- Mistletoe amazing facts:
- Despite their parasitic nature, some studies revealed that a mistletoe host’s resistance to diseases is enhanced. Moreover, some fruiting trees like apples show bigger fruits compared to non-host trees.
- The berries, fermented and cooked serve as a glue
- Mistletoes have ecological importance, for they are sites for nesting some birds and a wide range of animals depend on their fruit, pollen, and leaves to be nurtured.
- Shredded leaves are infused to treat high blood pressure. Furthermore, dry leaves are officially prescribed and sold to treat epilepsy and to regulate heartbeat.
- Recent trials in oncology are showing an important potential of the plant extracts against some cancers.
Ilex aquifolium, the holly, common holly, English holly, European holly, or occasionally Christmas holly, is regarded as the type species of the genus Ilex, family Aquifoliaceae. The holly is native across Europe, North Africa, and western Asia.
It is common in woodland, scrub, and hedgerows, especially in oak and beech woodland. Ilex aquifolium is the species of holly long associated with Christmas, and previously the Roman festival of Saturnalia.
- Description: Mature trees can grow up to 15m and live for 300 years. The bark is smooth and thin with lots of small, brown ‘warts’, and the stems are dark brown. Leaves are dark green, glossy, and oval. Holly is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers occur on different trees. Flowers are white with four petals. They bloom any time between early spring and the very beginning of summer, depending on the climate. Once pollinated by insects, female flowers develop into scarlet berries which can remain on the tree throughout winter.
- Mythology and symbolism: For centuries holly has symbolized life, with its evergreen leaves. The Druids regarded holly as a symbol of fertility and eternal life, thought to have magical powers. Today, Christians have adopted the holly tree as a symbol for Christmas. The sharp leaves are said to symbolize the crown of thorns worn by Christ, while the berries represent his blood. In a wreath, it symbolizes friendship and faithful love. Holly branches were seen as a fertility symbol and a charm against witches, goblins, and the devil. It was thought to be unlucky to cut down a holly tree. Holly branches are still used to decorate
homes and make wreaths at Christmas.
- Male/Female: Younger plants have spiky leaves, but the leaves of older trees are much more likely to be smooth. Leaves in the upper parts of the tree are also likely to be smooth. In England, it was believed that holly could influence the good harmony of the household. You need two kinds of holly: with prickles and without. The prickly holly symbolizes the husband, the smooth-sided holly, the wife. For the relationship between the spouses to be balanced, the sheaves of holly containing the two kinds of leaves must enter the house together. Otherwise one of the two, husband or wife, will dominate the house.
- Holywood or Hollywood? The word Hollywood may bring to mind many things, however, the name does have its origin in vegetative reality. Some people say it means the forest of Holly, others think that it is named after a native shrub growing in the area; Heteromeles arbutifolia, also known as California-holly.
- Biodiversity value: Holly provides dense cover and good nesting opportunities for birds, while its deep, dry leaf litter may be used by hedgehogs and small mammals for hibernation. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly, along with those of various moths. The smooth leaves found at the tops of holly trees are a winter source of food for deer. The berries are a vital source of food for birds in winter, and small mammals, such as wood mice and dormice.
- Uses of holly: Holly wood is the whitest of all woods and is heavy, hard, and fine-grained. It can be stained and polished and is used to make furniture or in engraving work. It is commonly used to make walking sticks. Holly wood also makes good firewood and burns with a strong heat. Holly makes good subjects for topiary (the art or practice of clipping shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes). It is also an evergreen hedging plant that makes intruder life difficult due to its prickly leaves.