For gardeners, seasonal plants offer holiday joy

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CST; updated 1:15 p.m. CDT, Friday, April 10, 2009

The holidays are upon us, and, while the avid gardener may bemoan the frozen ground outside, seasonal plants are a great way to share your enthusiasm for nature. Holiday plants are a welcome gift to give and receive and add color to your holiday decorations. There are quite a few holiday plants to choose from to either give or to have in your home.

  • Poinsettia: This is the plant most generally given during the holiday season. Its red flowers are actually modified leaves called bracts. The yellow portion in the center is the actual flower. Red is the traditional color, but there are many varieties to choose from. Besides red, this plant comes in pink, white, gold, marbled and variegated. Contrary to a widely held belief, poinsettias are not poisonous but can irritate the mouth and stomach, sometimes resulting in diarrhea or vomiting. The sap may cause a blistering on contact with the skin unless washed off immediately. This is why it's important to place them out of the reach of children and curious pets.
  • Christmas cactus: This plant is easy to grow and looks nice even when it's not flowering. At Christmastime, it produces up to two 2-inch blossoms either from notches in the stems or from its tips. The flowers vary in color from a deep purple to pale salmon.
  • Amaryllis: This plant is native to South America and is a popular flowering bulb often given as a gift. It is sold from the dry bulb stage to the blooming stage. The foliage is accented by a large stem that produces large, funnel-shaped blooms in colors of red, orange, peppermint, salmon, pink and white. The flowers last quite awhile and, once faded, should be removed along with the stems.
  • Paper white narcissus: These clusters of white blossoms often come arranged with greenery and berries. Like the amaryllis, they are available in all stages of growth, from dried bulbs to blooming plants.

Holiday plants with berries present a poison hazard. These include mistletoe, holly, bittersweet and Jerusalem cherry.

  • Mistletoe has been used in the treatment of several ailments, including gout, epilepsy, rabies and poisoning. Its white berries, which appear in winter, are poisonous.
  • Holly is a low-growing evergreen used for decorating at holiday time. Male and female flowers on separate bushes must be grown to obtain the scarlet berries, which last all winter on the female plant.
  • Bittersweet is grown for its ornamental fruit and is used in arrangements. It is most effective as an ornamental in the autumn and winter as the leaves turn yellow, and seed pods break open to reveal bright red berries.
  • Jerusalem cherry bears star-like half-inch flowers from July to September, followed by round orange-scarlet or yellow berries. The berries are not cherries at all. They are poisonous and need to be kept away from children and pets.

Some safety rules to follow regarding plants:

  • Never eat any part of an unknown plant.
  • Never chew on jewelry made from plant material or allow children to do so.
  • Never attempt to make your own "nature tea" unless you are positive of the plant you are using and the recipe.
  • Make sure the herbs you grow are edible and safe.
  • Never allow children to play around plants without supervision.
  • Store seeds, bulbs, tubers, etc., out of the reach of children and pets.

With so many kinds of plants to choose from as gifts, Why not choose several? With just minimal care and proper safety measures, these seasonal plants are sure to add enjoyment to any home.

Barbara Michael has been a Master Gardener since 1993, and she serves as the Master Gardeners' liaison to the Community Garden Coalition, also serving on its board. She enjoys container gardening and houseplants. She can be reached at


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