What colors do you think of most at Christmastime? Many of our rich Christmas colors of red, green and gold were inspired by nature. When people first began celebrating Christmas they used outdoor plants to make indoor decorations and we still use some of these Christmas plants today.
The poinsettia plant, which is native to Mexico, was first called Flame Leaf because of its colorful leaves. Dr. Joel Poinsett, our first ambassador to Mexico, brought the poinsettia to America in 1828, and the plant was renamed in his honor. Poinsettias still grow wild in Mexico and are usually about ten feet tall.
Another Christmas favorite is the holly. In the United States there are about 15 kinds of hollies, but the American holly is the one most used at Christmas. It is an evergreen which means that the leaves stay green all year. Hollies protect wild birds from the cold winter winds, rain and snow. Bluebirds and robins love to eat the berries from the holly which give them energy to stay warm.
If you look towards the sky when you go outside at Christmas you can see mistletoe as green balls in the treetops. There are 22 kinds of mistletoe that grow in the United States. Long ago, people thought that mistletoe represented hope, peace and harmony. People in America often tie it over doorways, and kiss the person standing underneath.
Mistletoe is a hemi-parasite and can make its own food from sunlight, but it often uses a tree to grow on for minerals and water. Mistletoe is the hostplant for the Great Purple Hairstreak. The caterpillars eat both flowers and leaves.
Birds love to eat mistletoe berries too! The berries have a sticky sap that sticks to the bird’s beak. When the bird tries to wipe the sap off on a tree limb, the seed comes off too and sticks to the tree. Roots from the mistletoe seed begin to grow into the tree branch, and a new plant begins.
Poinsettia, holly, mistletoe-each Christmas plant looks and feels different and has its own story to tell. Perhaps this is why we like to use them for decorations, sing about them and give them as gifts. They are different, yet in harmony together, like a choir singing a beautiful song.