Gardening / A well-red column for Christmas

Poinsettia… its bright-red bracts are synonymous with Christmas.

THE colour of Christmas is red, from the Father Christmas costume to plants decorating the Christmas table and poinsettia is also synonymous with its bright-red bracts.

Cedric Bryant.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is sold around the world at this time, especially in the US where, on December 12, National Poinsettia Day commemorates the 1851 death of botanist, physician and the first US ambassador to Mexico, Dr Joel R. Poinsett, who introduced the plant into America in 1828. Native to southern Mexico, it was previously dismissed by botanists as a weed.

In Mexico it is known as flor de nochebuena (flower of the holy night) or Christmas Eve flower.

Once the red leaves or bracts fall, they can live in pots for many years. Like all pot plants, if using a saucer under the pot, fill the saucer with pebbles and sit the pot on top of them. This keeps the roots out of the water. Feed regularly using organic seaweed plant nutrient. Contrary to popular belief poinsettia is not poisonous.

In All Saints Anglican Church, Ainslie, a half-metre-tall poinsettia is many years old and almost thrives on neglect.

Callistemon… a great alternative for a table decoration.

HOWEVER, if we want to be truly Australian, maybe we should consider using native flowers and what better flower than wonderful bottle brushes, with the rich red of Callistemon “Endeavour” being the perfect choice. They make a perfect cut flower, lasting a long time and providing a wonderful display on the Christmas table.

THEN there’s the Christmas tree, traditionally Norway spruce (Picea Abies). This tradition was started in the 1830s when Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, introduced it from his native Germany.

The alternative quintessentially Australian tree is our Wollemi pine. This is an ideal pot specimen without lots of falling needles. Every few years it may be necessary to repot into a larger size.

WHEN it comes to presents, buying plants for family or friends comes to mind. However, I prefer to give a gift voucher. Giving plants when recipients might be heading off on summer holidays means they may return home to find the new plant has completely dried out! And, of course, gift vouchers can be used for other items for the keen gardener – maybe a good pair of garden gloves or perhaps secateurs?

Although one gift that I still love to get is a good gardening book. Possibly the best range of gardening books is at the Australian National Botanic Gardens bookshop.

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