The Christmas season brings lots of iconic floral decorations that reflect the colors, sentiment, and spirit of the holidays. Certain flowers have become traditional symbols and popular accents used in Christmas decorating for generations. Keep reading to learn more about the meanings and legends behind 6 flowers that represent Christmas.
No flower is more iconic for Christmas than the poinsettia with its vibrant red and green foliage. Originally from Mexico, poinsettias were introduced to the US in 1825 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US ambassador to Mexico. Their association with Christmas comes from Mexican legend.
In one story, a poor girl named Pepita had no gift to bring to the Christmas Eve church service honoring baby Jesus. An angel told her to gather some weeds growing along the roadside. When she brought the scraggly plants to the altar, they transformed into beautiful red flowers with star-shaped leaves – the poinsettia.
Native to tropical regions, poinsettias are now the world’s most popular Christmas plant due to their bright seasonal color. Over 70 million are sold each holiday season!
The Christmas cactus is another winter-blooming plant traditionally associated with the holidays. Botanically known as Schlumbergera, this flowering cactus produces showy blooms in shades of red, pink, purple, orange and white from late fall through winter based on providing the right conditions.
Christmas cactus requires more water and less sun than regular cacti to set buds and flowers. When grown as a houseplant and triggered to bloom around Christmas time, it is known as the Thanksgiving cactus or Christmas cactus. First cultivated in the 1800s, it originates from Brazilian tropical forests.
Its timely flowers, ease of care and longevity make this a treasured living Christmas decoration passed down through generations.
Amaryllis are popular and elegant Christmas flowers that grow from bulbs, scientifically known as Hippeastrum. Their huge, trumpet-shaped blooms come in festive shades of red, white and pink and blossom atop tall, sturdy flower stalks.
According to Greek mythology, the amaryllis plant first sprouted from the blood of a timid shepherdess named Amaryllis who pierced her own heart because her love could not be returned. Today, amaryllis symbolize pride, determination, and radiant beauty.
When amaryllis bulbs are timed to bloom for the holidays, they are commonly called Christmas amaryllis. The gorgeous flowers last throughout the festive season, brightening spirits and interior decor.
Despite its name, the Christmas rose is not actually related to roses but is a member of the buttercup family. Its botanical name is Helleborus niger. This evergreen perennial grows low to the ground with large, shapely white blossoms that appear from winter into spring.
Ancient legends state the Christmas rose sprouted in the snow from the tears of a young shepherdess who had no gift to present to the baby Jesus. Another tale claims angels brought the flowers to earth to commemorate Jesus’ birth. Their purity evokes the very spirit of Christmas.
Native to Europe, Christmas roses grow well in shady gardens and bloom during the normally barren winter months, making them a special floral gift from nature.
Perhaps no botanical image is more synonymous with Christmas than glossy green leaves and red berries of the holly plant. Both whole live plants and cut branches commonly adorn homes during the holidays.
In many cultures, holly represents hope, defense, domestic happiness, and eternal life due to its hardy nature and ability to bear fruit in cold winter. Decorating with holly at Christmas pays tribute to Jesus’ crown of thorns. The sharp leaves recall the suffering he endured, while the berries symbolize drops of his blood.
Over 400 species of holly exist – from tall trees to shrubs. The traditional Christmas holly is Ilex aquifolium, with glossy prickly leaves and bright red drupes.
Mistletoe is a parasitic evergreen plant most known for its role in Christmas tradition. Its stems and leaves bear white berries, earning it the nickname “all heal” for ancient beliefs that it could cure diseases and ward off evil.
In Norse mythology, mistletoe symbolized love and friendship. Today we kiss under mistletoe hung in doorways as a gesture of peace, forgiveness, and romance.
Though highly toxic, mistletoe remains intrinsic to Christmas as a decoration and romantic tradition. The custom likely derives from ancient celebrations of winter solstice and the renewal of light, life and hope.
Honor Christmas Traditions with Festive Flowers
Christmas brings out beautiful plants and floral legends that have come to represent this most wonderful time of year. When decorating your home, look for traditional blooms like poinsettias, Christmas roses, holly, and more. Display them in wreaths, centerpieces, garlands, and arrangements to fill your home with the natural beauty and symbolism of Christmas.