Tropical Gardening: Mother’s Day celebration dates back to before Christianity

  • Courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE Anthurium make great living gifts for Mother’s Day. They are easy to grow as potted plants or in the shady garden.

Today is Mother’s Day, and there is still time for last-minute gifts for the lovely ladies in your life.

Before you run out to pick up the flowers and Hawaii chocolate, let’s ponder the origins of this special holiday.


It seems it goes so far back that the ancient Greeks and Romans celebrated by honoring the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. As Christianity spread across Europe, it became the Mothering Festival and was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of the month during Lent.

The church had a special service on that day honoring the important role mothers play in church, family and community.

Before the Civil War in the United States, abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe helped modernize the celebration. In 1870, Howe wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation, a call that asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace and campaigned for a Mother’s Peace Day.

Other early pioneers include temperance activist Juliet Calhoun Blakely. The duo of Mary Towles Sasseen and Frank Hering worked to organize Mother’s Day in the late 19th century and 20th century. Hering has been called the father of Mother’s Day.

After the Civil War, Mother’s Day was heavily influenced by the efforts of Ann Reeves Jarvis, who organized Mother’s Friendship Day, during which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation. Her daughter, Anna, carried on with these efforts, encouraging an official recognition by the U.S. government.

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, a national holiday to honor mothers.

Although Jarvis was instrumental in founding the observance, she herself regretted the commercialization and expressed views on how that was not her intention.

So as you shower Mom with gifts, remember the real meaning of today as you find those last-minute specialties for her. Sunday is a great time to visit garden shops and nurseries. Plants make the perfect gifts for those special friends and relatives.

To avoid the headaches, enjoy your shopping by being different. You would be surprised at how many different plants make great gifts. With a little love and care, you can give a gift that really has some meaning.

All the foliage plants can be spruced up with bright ribbons and clever cards, but some plants are more in keeping with the special occasion than others. In giving living plants, use your imagination with the containers, decorations and wrapping.

Colorful ti plants will add bright decor to home and garden. Another interesting foliage is the Snow Queen hibiscus, with the variegated white and green leaves and red flowers. There are dozens of hibiscus varieties available. Crotons and bougainvillea also can be given to add garden color.

Many palms make great gifts.

The pygmy date palm gives a tropical look and stays small. There are hundreds of species of palms, and these fit well in to our tropical Indo-Pacific landscapes. One of the favorites is the red crown sealing wax palm. Other palms include the Manila palm, with its red fruit and chambeyronia from New Caledonia with its bright red new leaf. Then there are the petite licualas, pinangas, arecas and dozens of others.

Hawaii grows more palms species than any other place in the United States. This is thanks to the International Palm Society and nursery folks such as Jeff Marcus, who have introduced palms to Hawaii that are on the verge of extinction in their places of origin. Thus Hawaii is like a Noah’s Arc, where these species can thrive.

By the way, if you think your loved one would like to help in the conservation of palms or other groups of plants, there are local chapters of societies such as the Rhododendron Society, Palm Society, Bamboo Society and Orchid societies. A gift of membership to one or all of these would be very special.

Potted blooming orchid plants and bromeliads are just a few plants you might consider to use in the home, and when their color wanes place them in your tropical garden.

The fun of giving plants to Mom and your sister, daughter and wife is that you can then plan together how to best present them in the home or garden. It is a bonding experience for those who prepare and give the gift as well as the special lady who receives it.

In getting your gifts ready, start with the right container.

Wooden tubs are excellent since wood prevents rapid drying out of the soil. Jardenieres usually lack drainage holes, which might cause a watering problem. Clay pots are fine and can be painted to blend with the colors in the home. Brass and copper are ideal for table and mantle arrangements.

But, as these containers are usually small, pay careful attention to supplies of water and fertilizer.

Some beautiful large pots created by Mark Kimball, Big Island farmer and artist, are available through several garden centers and nurseries. They are formed with concrete, but some of his creations look like ancient Chinese urns.

When choosing plants, consider the person receiving the gift. Select varieties that will withstand adverse growing conditions, especially if the gift is for a novice.

Conditions such as low light intensity, extremes of temperature and dry air must be considered for a houseplant.

Some folks claim to have a brown thumb instead of a green one, but a Sansevieria plant given to one brown thumb lady several years ago is still alive after being placed in a dark corner and watered about once a month. This would be a great gift for your mother-in-law because it is very slow growing and almost impossible to kill.

Though come to think of it, I would think twice before giving it to your wife’s mom, fellas, since it is also referred to as Mother-In-Law’s Tongue. It actually does resemble a tongue, and it can get up to 2 feet in length.


To be satisfactory, plants must do more than merely survive. They must maintain an attractive appearance with a minimum of care. For problem interiors, check with your local garden center or nursery to help you make the right choice. They also have a number of gardening books available that make great gifts.

This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. For more information, contact the UHCTAHR Master Gardener Helpline at 322-4893 in Kona and 981-5199 in Hilo

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