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Tropical Gardening: Give living gifts for Christmas

  • Photo courtesy of Voltaire Moise
    Red or white anthuriums make great living gifts for friends and family during the Christmas holidays. They are easy to keep in the home or planted in a moist shady part of the garden.

It is just three weeks until Christmas and the days will actually be getting longer by the time we open presents. As the days lengthen, our garden plants begin to swell with the anticipation of spring. Even in Hawaii where winters are mild, we feel the pulse of new life.

Christmas is a perfect time to fill your home and lanai with poinsettias and other flowering plants. It’s also a great time to give natural, living gifts to those you love. Now many nurseries and garden shops are bright with potted poinsettias, bougainvillea, hibiscus, bromeliads and orchids.

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If you still have a list of friends and relatives for whom you haven’t found just the right gift, then stop by a few local nurseries, garden and flower shops to complete your holiday shopping. You would be surprised at how many different plants make appropriate Christmas gifts.

Christmas is a time of birth, of life and hope. Giving a plant is a symbol of this season. Some plants are more in keeping with the holiday than others. In giving living plants, use your imagination with the containers, in decorating and with the wrapping. You can put more love in this type of gift than most other types unless you consider hand-made bedspreads, homemade cookies and such. Plants as gifts are not nearly as fattening as cookies and candy!

Watch for the many varieties of hibiscus. Even the common Chinese hibiscus with its red flowers and green foliage is appropriate. The gardenia with white flowers and green leaves is also ideal. Another gift that is a natural is the ever-blooming Jatropha tree. Here’s an ornamental addition to any home landscape. It’s ideal for a holiday gift with its bright red flowers and dark green foliage. The tree will grow to a maximum of fifteen feet with spreading branches, and is ideal for the small garden. If you want to keep it small, you may plant it in a container for the patio. The False Aralia or Dizyogotheca elegantissima is also popular.

For a frosty effect give the Silver Buttonwood that will also form a large shrub or small tree with blue-gray foliage. Other possibilities are the Snow Queen Hibiscus and White Poinsettia, (Euphorbia leucocephala) with its miniature flowers. The latter is also known as the Snows of Kilimanjaro. It is in full bloom now in Kona. Both the White Poinsettia and the common Poinsettia are easily grown from cuttings after they finish blooming.

Many palms are ideal as Christmas gifts. The pygmy date palm and Chamaedorea species are miniatures. Palms with red and green foliage such as the Latania palm with leaf stalks and fan leaves are unusual and rare. This slow growing palm develops blue-gray leaves in maturity.

Other Christmas type palms include the Manila palm, (Veitchia merrilli), with its red fruit, and the Red Princess palm, (Dictyosperma rubum), with green and red leaves and the Sealing Wax Palm, (Cyrtostachys lakka).

Blooming orchid plants and Anthuriums are just a few other ideas you might consider.

Don’t forget the popular Norfolk Island Pine as a living gift. Used as a living Christmas tree, it may then be planted outside after the holidays or kept in a pot for several years.

Christmas in the tropics can be a challenge. The surf and beach are still a big attraction. Some folks might even take the holidays to catch up on gardening projects. There are folks who miss the snow and the bite of frost in the air. They remember the cold, dark days when all life is dormant. They long for the coziness of an open fireplace and the smell of holiday cooking in the kitchen. A trip to Maunakea will help add to the spirit of the season.

But Remember, most of the things we associate with Christmas have little to do with the real meaning. We make it special by giving and sharing. Yes, there are cynics who complain about the holiday. They see it as being tainted by commercialism with everyone having to give gifts and buy this or that, but gifts given with a loving heart are what count!

When it comes down to the place of Christ’s birth, palms were probably more common than pine trees. The use of the Christmas trees is believed to have originated in Germany. During the 8th century, a missionary, St. Boniface, was trying to stamp out the rite of sacrificing people to the oak tree. He led these tree worshiping people into the forest in the dead of winter to show them the only tree with no cursing stain of blood upon it. This was the evergreen Fir, which lives and grows when earth is darkest. The missionary showed them that the tree pointed upward toward the Christ Child. He told them to take this tree into their homes as a symbol of their newfound faith.

The holly for thousands of years has had all manner of mystical charms and qualities attributed to it. The use of holly at Christmas was likely to have come from the Teutonic custom of hanging holly in their houses. They did this so that the tree sprites might have a warm, safe shelter from winter storms.

The mistletoe originally had nothing to do with Christmas, it was considered sacred by those same tree worshipers because it grew on oaks. To this day in Europe, amulets and rings of mistletoe are worn as an antidote against sickness.

Christmas is really about what is in the heart.

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In Hawaii, it is the ultimate essence of aloha. Christmas is truly the celebration of the gift of life, love and giving in the purest sense! May we all celebrate our many blessings and share with others during this special season.

For answers to your gardening questions call the Master gardeners helpline at the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. In Kona the number is 322-4893 and in Hilo it is 981-5199.