Christmas is a unique time of year for many reasons, but perhaps one of the oddest traditions is the urge to bring a whole tree inside the house. For most of the year the only outdoor growth that decorates our interiors is the occasional vase of flowers, yet at Christmas we go crazy with trees, wreaths and mistletoe giving our rooms a woodland feel.
If you’re on the hunt for some winter foliage to decorate a mantlepiece, wall or table then here’s our guide to five of the most popular festive plants…
The centrepiece of the festive living room, sticking a tree in the house is a tradition that is so old no-one quite knows why or when it began. In days gone by various whole trees or branches have been adorned with decorations for celebratory reasons, including hawthorn and cherry trees, but these days the task tends to lie with spruce, pine or fir trees.
The most common variety for UK households over the years has been the Norway Spruce, although its popularity has recently been challenged by numerous other species including Blue Spruce, Canaan Fir and current favourite Nordmann Fir (on account of its less prickly needles that stay on the branches for longer).
Branches of these trees can also be used elsewhere in the house and are particularly useful as the base for a home-made wreath. When you collect your tree, politely ask if they have a few offcuts and the chances are you’ll be given an armful of prickly foliage to take home.
There are strong religious associations with holly at Christmas time: the crown of thorns Jesus wore when he was crucified is represented by the holly leaves, and the bright red berries signify the drops of blood made by those thorny incisions.
Whether you’re religious or not, the vibrant green and red combination is as Christmassy as you can get and some folk will go to great lengths to track down the most spectacular specimens to cull from the woods
Holly plants are either male or female and it’s the females that proceed the berries, providing they have been pollinated by a nearby male. If you’re planning on growing your own holly and want to benefit from those bright red berries then make sure you have a female plant with a pollinating male in close proximity. And if red is not your thing you can also get plants that produce black, yellow or green berries.
Ivy is Holly’s best friend at Christmas. They even appear together in a carol. It was once thought that ivy was a male plant and holly female, which led to all sorts of superstitions about which should be brought into the house first. Our favourite ivy myth relates to Christmas booze – it was said that drinking from a goblet made from ivy would neutralise the effect of alcohol upon the drinker (we reckon only someone addled on booze would come up with that theory so we won’t be testing it out this year). Ivy plants were also used to identify inns, growing up poles outside the boozer to notify passers by that a beery welcome would lie within.
Ivy makes a great addition to festive decorations – its tough, flexible stems can twist round most objects and intertwine with other forms of foliage – and you rarely have to travel far to find a sprig or two to snaffle for the purpose.
“Christmas time, mistletoe and wine.”Apologies for implanting that irritating Christmas song in your head, but writing this piece has infected us with its saccharine chorus and we can’t suffer alone.
Mistletoe has festive associations dating back to pre-Christian times and is a happy symbol of love, which has now been adapted to an accessory in a drunken snog at the office party.
It’s a parasitic plant which some people mistakenly consider to be a problem for the trees in which it lives, but much like other plant types (such as fungi) it is actually a benefit for the biodiversity of our environment.
If you want to grow your own then it thrives best on an apple tree. In order to get one started, simply rough up a bit of the tree between trunk and branch with a knife and rub some mistletoe berries into the wounds. Success isn’t guaranteed but if you do manage to start some growth then you should have a good sized, berry-producing plant within five years.
The leaves of rosemary give it the appearance of a miniature spruce and it’s a plant that also has strong associations with the festive period. Rosemary’s fragrance was thought to bring good health, so it would be brought into the house on Christmas Eve and scattered on the floor, so when walked over its perfume would deliver health and happiness in the new year.
It has continued to be used as a decorative plant over Christmas and adds a different shade of green to wreaths and bouquets along with that heady, herby aroma. It’s also great scattered on the spuds before heading to the oven for roasting.
What plants do you bring inside for Christmas? Let us know in the comments!