Monday, December 19, 2011

The Flowers of the Season

Dave's Garden website
By Mitch Fitzgerald (MitchF)
December 17, 2011

Each year at this time of year we use plants and flowers to decorate our homes and declare the season. Ever wonder about the plants and flower we use? Ever wonder where they came from and just a hint at their meaning?

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 6, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments. We hope you enjoy it as we count down to Christmas.)  

Amaryllis - Hippeastrum - This is a much loved plant to brighten up windows during the holiday season. The attraction is that these plants bloom in the dead of winter with minimal care. They come in the holiday colors of red, green, and white. Amaryllis can be grown in the ground up to zone 8 year round without difficulty. 

Christmas Rose - Helleborus niger – This flower is said to have sprouted from the tears of a little child at the Nativity who did not have a gift to give the Christ child. It was also used by many, including the druids, to ward off evil spirits which were believed to thrive in the dead cold months of winter. The snow white flowers are stunning and a welcome surprise in any garden at any time of year.

Holiday Cactus - Schlumbergera x buckleyi - A wonderful flower on a very hardy plant that will stand the test of time. I have seen stunning specimens blooming in the same dirty pots for 20 years and more. If the temperature is lower than 55- 60 F, plants set flower buds regardless of the length of the day or night. The story goes that a young Mayan convert was the first to bring these into the altar of the church and many churches in Latin America would not be without them on such a wonderful day, even though their popularity is waning with the rise of the ever popular Noche Buena – Poinsettia.

Holly - Ilex opaca - The single most important plant as a Christian symbol of Christmas. Christians have found meaning in the colors of the plant and in the leaves pointing to the crown of thorns. Scandinavians gave branches of holly and other green plants in winter to bring good luck. A simple plant to grow and branches can be cut and will keep for a rather long time. The fruits are very helpful to local wildlife in the cold harsh times of winter. 

Mistletoe - In the dead time of winter many a traveler has seen the mistletoe in the tops of the trees. Green, despite all the elements around it, it became a symbol of hope and new life. The story was told to me as a boy growing up in Oklahoma that at Native American funeral mistletoe was often placed with the body in the ground to ward off evil spirits and as a symbol of life starting again. Image thanks to kennedyh.

Poinsettia - Euphorbia pulcherrima – This flower was the Aztec symbol of love and purity and it can be seen in the wild in many of the mountainous areas around Mexico City. The Christmas connection came with a poor child bringing green flowers to Mass for the Christ Child and they turned the red color at the church. They are the favored flower and plant for all Christmas celebrations everywhere. 

Ivy - Hedera helix – It is ivy and not evergreen that used to deck the halls and walls during Christmas time. The ivy is a long standing symbol of the holiday season for many European cultures. It is the symbol of everlasting life and was used by most cultures in Europe during nearly every time period. 

Christmas Tree and branches – Many – Germanic tribes are the first to have used trees in winter with decorations on them to give a hope for the spring ahead. Some scholars tend to believe it was not until the eighth century that the tree was used with Christmas celebrations. Can you guess what the most common decorations during the early years were? They were bread and apples to represent the tree of life and the tree of good and evil. 

Oranges - Citrus sinensis – These wonderful fruits were the center piece on many a Christmas table for years. From before the colonial era to the Victorian times, the Christmas table would have a bowl of oranges built up like a pyramid. The meaning was a clear one to the guests at the table. Oranges were rare and valuable fruit so only the wealthy could use them in this manor. Thus, the taller the pile, the more wealthy the patron of the table.

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