Plants are brilliant. In their world, long-term survival is the name of the game. And in this game, manipulation rules. Just how does a plant that can’t move about accomplish wide-spread population? They seductively lure others to do their dirty work for them, that’s how. All they have to do is put on a pretty dress and some sweet perfume, and insects and humans alike become putty in their hands. And, if a plant manages to attach themselves to a holiday, like Christmas--well, they’ve hit the Plant Kingdom’s jackpot.
Take the poinsettia. Before winning the lottery, this Christmas superstar lived a humble life on the roadsides of Mexico. As legend has it, long ago, a young, Mexican girl made her way to church on Christmas eve. It was tradition to bring a gift to place in the symbolic manger, yet she was too poor to afford one. She was overcome with sadness, until an angel appeared before her and encouraged her to pick a handful of weeds, explaining that the love behind any gift is what really matters. As she placed the bouquet of weeds into the manger, they bursted into scarlet, star-shaped “flowers”, thus aptly earning the name, “Flor de la Noche Buena”--meaning, the flower of the Holy night. Nicely done, poinsettia. Your beauty and charming back story have wooed us into extensively growing 100 different varieties of you, securing your diversity and longevity. All this, and you get to enjoy eleven months off a year!
Mistletoe, too, has weaseled its way into the king of holidays. I mean, how does a parasite that sprouts from seed wrapped in bird dung come to symbolize peace and romance? Even its very name translates to “dung on a twig.” Nevertheless,centuries of legends declaring its magical-like connections with protection, peace, fertility and love, have ensured its stronghold in our holiday tradition and therefore, in our landscapes. Kudos to their public relation committee for pulling that one off!
It should seem strange bringing a tree into our homes each December. But most can’t imagine the holidays without one. There are as many legends leading to the tradition that will be needles on your living room floor, come January. And they aren’t all rooted in Christianity.
In fact, while Christians do associate evergreens with ever-lasting life, pagans use them to celebrate the winter solstice and the spring to come. No matter what meaning, if any, you attach to the evergreen fir or pine standing in your home, you’re among millions who have succumb to this plant’s spell. Who’s running the show now?
So, this Christmas, as you sit transfixed in front of the masterpiece that is your Christmas tree, gift a friend with the perfect poinsettia or smooch under a sprig of mistletoe, take a moment to relish in the depth of these centuries-old traditions. And to untangle those puppet strings.
Merry Christmas, everyone! May the holidays refresh your spirit and bring you new inspiration and happiness.