There are quite a few houseplants that have come to be associated with the holidays. Most of these are plants that, in their natural habitat, would bloom towards the end of the year. While most of them are tropical, they happily grow as houseplants and help brighten our homes during winter.
Christmas & Thanksgiving Cactus
Holiday cacti are from south-eastern Brazil, where they grow in cool and shady locations with high humidity. They were popular in the early 1800s, prized for their fall and winter blooms, but then fell out of fashion. They regained popularity again in the 1950s.
Want a fun home-grown Christmas gift for friends and family next year? Take cuttings of your Christmas cactus next spring, and give them as presents next Christmas!
Holiday cactus want bright light but no direct sun. Water your Christmas or Thanksgiving, or Easter cactus when the soil feels dry about an inch deep. Keep them away from drafts and heating vents. They need 12-14 hours of full darkness starting in October to help them bloom for the holidays.
While most of these plants are tropical, they can happily grow as houseplants and help brighten our homes during winter!
Cyclamen originate from the Mediterranean basin in Europe. They’re a member of the primrose family, and they grow from tubers. While we often associate them with Christmas, since they may bloom in winter in temperate climates, they can bloom any month of the year.
They are happy to grow as houseplants and are easy to care for. Indoors they want lots of bright, filtered light. Outdoors they’ll be best if protected from the sun for the afternoon in the summer months.
These classic flowers of Christmas are native to Central America and southern Mexico, they can grow into large trees, turning bright red in the winter! They were brought to the US by Joel Roberts Poinsett, which is why we call them Poinsettia. Originally they were mostly sold in the US as cut flowers. A family in Southern California was quite likely the first grower to sell them as whole plants in the early 1900s, and the same family is still one of the largest producers of them today.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the colorful red or pink parts of the poinsettia are its flowers, but they’re actually bracts, which just means modified leaves. The flower is a tiny yellow bloom, usually found right in the middle of the colorful bracts.
Poinsettias often get a bad rap for being a poisonous plant for humans and animals. While the white sap in the plant can cause skin or digestive irritation, it would have to be consumed in massive quantities for it to be deadly.
Poinsettias need 12-14 hours of darkness starting in October to develop their colorful bracts by Christmas. If you’re buying a new one, make sure to wrap it up very well when bringing it home, because they’re very susceptible to cold temperatures.
Norfolk pine is a unique evergreen tree that grows happily as a houseplant and has gained popularity as a living Christmas tree. Despite their name, they’re not a pine tree at all.
Norfolk Pine is native to Norfolk Island, near New Zealand. In its native habitat, the trees can get as big as 200 feet tall, with trunks up to 10 feet in diameter! The wood is excellent for woodturning and is extensively used by Hawaiian artisans.
They’re also not cold hardy since they are a tropical plant. They’re one houseplant that loves lots of light, so if you’ve got a big south-facing window, it’ll be happy where it can get a few hours of sunshine. Norfolk Pines enjoy lots of humidity, so use a pebble tray or a humidifier. Water them when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch, and fertilize with general houseplant fertilizer in spring and summer.
Kalanchoe is a popular blooming plant around Christmas, and they’re actually a succulent. They’re a tropical plant and are native to countries in Africa, Asia, and Madagascar.
Kalanchoe was imported to France in 1927, and later breeders in Denmark and the Netherlands helped it become popular in the 1980s. These plants were taken to the Soviet space station in 1971!
They’re relatively easy to propagate, and are available with flowers in a wide range of colors. Kalanchoe may bloom for up to 6 months!
Kalanchoe is pretty easy to grow and doesn’t require much maintenance. They like bright light, but too much direct sun can burn their leaves. They want a deep watering and then allowing the soil to dry out completely before watering again. They need 12-14 hours of darkness, from October, to bloom again.
What we commonly call Amaryllis are actually hippeastrum, a cousin of amaryllis. But, since the name has widely become associated with hippeastrum, it’s been accepted as normal.
What is sold as Amaryllis originates from eastern brazil, though they also grow in Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina in the wild. There are 90 different species of over 600 amaryllis hybrids and cultivars. They’ve been popular for a long time and have been bred and cultivated since the early 19th century.
Amaryllis are quite easy to grow, but they need lots of bright light. Plant them in a pot that’s not much bigger than the bulb that has good drainage. Then place them close to a south-facing window, and make sure to turn them about 1/4 turn every week, so they grow straight instead of leaning over towards the window.
If you start them in early to mid-October, they should bloom in time for Christmas.
Orchids are a popular holiday plant because they’re relatively easy to care for, and their blooms last forever. They come in an endless array of colors.
There are more than 25,000 different types of orchids, and there are orchids that occur naturally worldwide. Initially, they’re believed to have been native to Asia, Australia, the Himalayas, and the Philippines.
Orchids are epiphytic, meaning they attach themselves to another plant, like a tree, and absorb their nutrients and water from humid air.
Orchids do best in a chunky bark mixture, so if you get one in moss, it’s a good idea to repot it into something that drains better. They love humidity, so a pebble tray or humidifier is excellent. Orchids often suffer from being overwatered, and it can be challenging to figure out how much they like. Generally speaking, you can soak an orchid well until water runs out of the bottom of its pot, then let it drain, and don’t water again until its growing medium is dry. If you’ve kept yours in moss, don’t water it until the moss starts to feel crunchy.