Christmas Stories Behind Holiday Plants

by Ken Lain, The Mountain Gardener, Watters Garden Center

Poinsettia is the most iconic Christmas plant. They are sub-tropical plants native to Mexico. The plant is sensitive to the cold, which is why it’s recommended they stay inside.

The plant arrived in America during the 1800s with Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He sent a few plants back to South Carolina, where he grew them and gave them as gifts. He donated many to public and private botanical gardens.

The star-shaped flower symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem. Red has been a favorite color, suggesting Christ shed blood, and white represents his purity.

Holly goes back to ancient Romans and Greeks who decked their halls for good luck. Holly holds its fresh spring foliage through winter with little care. Romans sent holly wreaths to friends, family and especially newlywed as gifts of goodwill, good wishes.

Mistletoe is associated with kissing. In Norse mythology, a goddess used the plant to bring back memories of her beloved son, slain with a weapon crafted from the plant.

The legend has evolved from grief into rebirth or regrowth. Later, a sprig was placed over a baby’s bed to ward off evil spirits. Today, kissing under the mistletoe indicates future happiness and fertility.

Yew is said to be one of the oldest trees on Earth. The ancient Druids looked to the yew tree as symbolizing everlasting life.

Ivy also is known to ward off evil spirits and bad luck, symbolizing new growth and is popular when decorating Christmas wreaths. To ancient Christians, holly symbolized masculinity, and Ivy represented femininity.

Christmas trees are the embodiment of today’s celebrations. It’s said 16th-century German theologian Martin Luther walked home on a winter night and was inspired by the beauty of stars twinkling through evergreen branches. He recreated the optimism he felt by erecting a tree with candles in his family’s home. The Christmas tree became widely accepted in America by the early 20th century.

Christmas cactus is a perfect holiday gift. This tropical cactus is grown indoors as a houseplant. Brazilian legend says a poor boy living in the jungles prayed for a sign of Christmas. On Christmas morning, he woke to find beautiful bursts of colorful flowers on the tips of the cacti branches.

This stunning display of beauty continues to be a symbol of answered prayer today.