Dwarf Pomegranate: Beauty Indoors and Out

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The flowers and fruit of the dwarf pomegranate are very colorful. Source: articulo.mercadolibre.com.ar

The pomegranate (Punica granatum), in the Lythraceae family, is a shrub or small tree from the Mediterranean and Middle East, widely grown in subtropical and warm temperate regions (zone 8 and above) throughout the world. In North America, it’s essentially a plant of the South, but in Europe, specimens have been known to grow and thrive, although often with winter damage, as far north as London and Paris.

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The name pomegranate derives from Old French (pome grenata) and means apple with many seeds.. Source: www.organicfacts.net

In colder climates (prolonged exposure to temperatures below 14 ° F/-10 ° C can kill it), the standard-sized pomegranate is rarely grown. Instead, the dwarf pomegranate (P. granatum nana) is the more popular subject … but either as a houseplant or a patio plant that has to be brought indoors over the winter. The dwarf variety is widely grown in warmer climes too, but as ornamental, not a fruit tree

Big Things, Small Package

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The small fruits of the dwarf pomegranate decorate the shrub like a Christmas tree. Source: kauaiseascapesnursery.com.

The dwarf pomegranate is natural variant of the species, discovered in the wild over 200 years ago. It differs from the standard pomegranate by its much smaller, lanceolate, glossy leaves (about 1 inch/2.5 cm long), but especially its fruits, which are only the size of a golf ball rather than the size of a really big apple. The shrub itself is not that dwarf though. It can easily reach 6 feet (2 m) if left unpruned. However, it responds well to pruning and so it generally kept between 2 and 3 feet (60 and 90 cm) in height.

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The dwarf pomegranate makes an excellent bonsai. Source: bonsaibeginnings.blogspot.ca

In warm temperate climates, the dwarf pomegranate is deciduous: its leaves turn yellow, then drop off in late fall. Indoors and in the tropics, it usually keeps its foliage year round or, if it drops off, it regrows within a few weeks.

The flowers are orange-red, with crinkled petals. The petals only last a few days, but the flower seems to go on and on, because the calyx (the star-shaped crown of thick “leaves” behind the flower) and ovary are almost the same color as the flower, so you get the impression it is still in bloom long after the flowering has stopped. The flower/fruit matures slowly, remaining on the plant for six months or more, although by the end, it no longer looks as much like a flower, but has rounded out and is quite clearly a fruit. Theoretically, this plant blooms in summer, but in fact, indoor plants kept under warm conditions may bloom at just about any time of the year.

The round fruits are fully red a maturity, but they’re not terribly good to eat, without the sweet flavor of standard pomegranate. Besides, to be honest, there is very little to munch on! As a result, the fruits of the dwarf pomegranate are essentially considered to be ornamental rather than edible.

Container Culture

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In cooler climates, the dwarf pomegranate is grown as a container plant or houseplant. Source: http://www.amazon.ca

The dwarf pomegranate is fairly easy to grow. Not a beginner’s plant exactly, but one a moderately experienced gardener can easily handle. Think “Mediterranean climate” and you’ll get the picture. Full summer sun and extreme heat are not a problem, but it does appreciate a cooler winter.

It can be grown indoors all year, but normally it’s put outside for the summer on a patio or balcony where it can truly profit from full sunlight, then it’s brought back indoors when nights start to get distinctly chilly in the fall.

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Outdoor plantes are readily pollinated by insects. Source: www.gardensalive.com

The great advantage of placing it outdoors in summer is that it will be visited by insects (and, in the New World, by hummingbirds!) that ensure pollination. If you grow it indoors all year-round, you’ll have to pollinate the flowers manually if you want fruits to form. That’s easy enough to do. Soon after the flowers open, when stamens are visible, just lightly dab the flowers with a small paintbrush or a cotton swab, moving from flower to flower.

Water as necessary so the soil never dries out entirely, but don’t leave the plant soaking in water either. Remember that plants in containers dry much more quickly than plants grown in the ground and may even need daily watering in hot, dry weather.

Fertilize from spring through early fall with an all-purpose fertilizer diluted to half the recommended dosage.

Decisions, Decisions!

Decision time comes at the end of summer. Do you prefer keeping it growing or do you want to force it into dormancy?

If you want it to keep growing, which means it will keep its leaves and its fruits will have time to mature, plus you might well see the plant rebloom sporadically, bring it in fairly early, certainly before nights drop below 50 ° F (10 ° C), and keep it warm, brightly lit and well watered throughout the fall and winter. Reasonable air humidity (40% and more) is also wise.

If you want it to go dormant, leave it outside until temperatures drop substantially and the leaves fall off. Bye-bye fruits (they might hang on, but as shells), but at least winter care will be minimal. Once dormant, the plant needs no light and you can “store it” in a cold, but frost-free spot, perhaps a barely heated garage, at between 33 and 40˚ F (0.5 and 4˚ C). Check monthly and add water if the soil is becoming overly dry.

The Spring Hair Cut

In both cases, spring, just as new growth starts to appear, is time to prune. You can shorten branches and remove weak or damaged ones. This is also a good time to repot it, something you’ll probably need to do every 3 or 4 years (more frequently with young plants). Pretty much any houseplant or container garden potting soil will be well suited for this purpose.

Growing It Outdoors Year Round

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This outdoor specimen is starting to turn yellow and go dormant. Soon the leaves will turn fully yellow and drop off. Source: delange.org

Of course, growing dwarf pomegranates outdoors all year-long will be limited to mild climates, essentially zones 8 to 11, perhaps zone 7 in a protected spot. Ideally, you’d choose a spot where there is no frost, although, as mentioned, it will take temperatures down to below 14 ° F/-10 ° C if they don’t last long. Be forewarned that temperatures only a bit below freezing can kill the plant to the ground, forcing it to resprout from its base.

This plant is easier to grow in the ground than in pots, especially since, once it’s been in place for a year or so, it’s extensive root system makes it very drought resistant. In fact, it will need little care at all, other than pruning. Almost any well-drained soil, even poor or rocky, will do. In general, just plant it in the sun and let it take care of itself.

Propagation

The fastest way of multiplying a dwarf pomegranate is by tip cuttings about 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm) long, taken in the spring. Just apply a bit of rooting hormone to the wound, then insert the slips into a pot of slightly moist soil, placing the pot in a warm spot. Cover with a clear plastic bag or dome to keep humidity up. Rooting will only take a few weeks.

You can multiply dwarf pomegranate by seed, ideally in the spring, as it comes true to type. However, that only applies to P. granatum nana. Its various cultivars will not come true to type; you’ll need to propagate them by cuttings.

Where to Find a Plant?

If you can find plants on sale, you ought to be able to find seed. Source: www.seeds-gallery

First things first: seed of this plant is widely available. Just enter the name dwarf pomegranate seed in a search engine and you’re off to the races. The neat thing about seeds is that you can order seeds from foreign countries if you can’t find anything local.

In the US, many mail order sources offer dwarf pomegranate plants, including Direct Gardening and Logee’s. If you live in the southern half of the country, you’ll find plants in most garden centers, sometimes even a few of the cultivars.

In Canada, I know of only Flora Exotica and Richters Herbs that sell plants by mail order, but I’ll update this if you have other suggestions. If your local garden center has a bonsai department, it may well carry dwarf pomegranates as pre-bonsais.

In Europe and in Australia, dwarf pomegranates are widely available: you should no problem finding plants locally.


The dwarf pomegranate: a striking, fairly easy-to-grow plant that just isn’t well enough known among gardeners. Try one and see!20180216A articulo.mercadolibre.com.ar

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Christmas Plants Around the World

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Christmas plants differ according to region. Source; laidbackgardener.blog

The most popular Christmas plant in North America is certainly the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). There is scarcely a store that doesn’t sell them or a home that isn’t decorated with one. But there are other Christmas plants, including Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera spp.), Christmas kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.), Christmas pepper (Capsicum annuum), Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum), frosted fern (Selaginella martensii ‘Frosty’), Norfolk island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) and, more recently, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).

Christmas trees are popular all over North America, too. Fir trees (Abies spp.) are the biggest sellers, but Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), spruces (Picea spp.) and pines (Pinus spp.) are widely used.

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Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). Source: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz

The Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) was once commonly used in Christmas wreathes, garlands and centerpieces in Eastern North America, as it has evergreen fronds that last all winter and are thus available at Christmastime, but its star has waned considerably. It’s just too easy to find longer-lasting artificial or preserved foliage for such use these days. The Christmas fern still makes a great garden plant for shady spots and is hardy to zone 3.

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Winterberry (Ilex verticillata Berry Poppins®). Source: Proven Winners

The branches of winterberry (Ilex verticillata) have fared better over time and are still widely used. This deciduous holly, native to eastern North America, is leafless at Christmas, but its branches are covered with bright red berries that create great swaths of color in Christmas arrangements. You can grow them yourself (the shrub is hardy to zone 3 and you will need to include at least one male plant in your planting to pollinate the berry-bearing females), but you can also buy branches in florist shops … including fake ones, unfortunately.

That covers most of the plants associated with Christmas in North America, but Christmas plants differ around the world. Let’s take a look at what’s going on elsewhere.

Europe

In general, the plants featured in the first paragraph—poinsettias, Christmas cactus, Christmas kalanchoe, etc.—are also popular in Europe, although the poinsettia, even though it is not rare per se, is not as popular as on this side of the Atlantic. But there are other plants associated with Christmas (and New Year’s Day) that are more specific to Europe.

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Holly (Ilex aquifolium): more popular in Europe than in North America. Source: AnemoneProjectors, Wikiimedia Commons

For example, holly (Ilex aquifolium) is a European shrub or tree with spiny-edged, shiny, leathery, evergreen leaves and red berries and is grown in many Old World gardens. True enough, holly is available on a limited basis in North America too (although are mostly seem either on Christmas cards or as sprigs of plastic leaves), but nothing to the extent to which it is used in Europe, where, in some countries, sprigs of holly are found on nearly every window ledge and doorway. This tradition has come to be seen as a sign of welcome, but is in fact based a centuries-old belief that putting holly on all possible entranceways would prevent evil spirits from invading the home.

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Mistletoe is no longer as common as it once was. Source: mistletoematters.wordpress.com

Kissing under the mistletoe during the Christmas season is a very old European tradition and can be traced back to the time of the Druids, who laid down arms and exchanged greetings under the mistletoe, considered to be a very sacred plant. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on tree branches, counting on sap it absorbs from its host for its survival. European mistletoe (Viscum album)—with its translucent round white berries—is the original variety to kiss under.

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe was brought over to the New World and thrived for awhile, but now appears to be dying out. Certainly mistletoe is now only available very locally in North America: I haven’t seen a sprig of it in years! It’s still widely used in Europe during the holiday season.

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English ivy (Hedera helix) used in a wreath. Source: bcinvasives.ca

English ivy (Hedera helix) is a traditional Christmas plant in Europe, widely used in holiday garlands and wreaths. Think of the carol The Holly and the Ivy, for example. And why not, since this evergreen climber grows abundantly everywhere on that continent and so is readily available! The tradition of using ivy as a Christmas decoration never caught on in North America, probably because ivy is neither native nor widely grown, though it has escaped from culture to become abundant in a few areas. Harvesting ivy for Christmas decorations is something that could be encouraged as a control measure in areas (mostly on the US West Coast) where ivy is proving to be a pernicious weed.

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The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is a stunning early bloomer… but only blooms at Christmas in mild climates. Source: 4028mdk09, Wikimedia Commons

The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is not a rose (Rosa spp.) at all, of course, but a perennial. It’s a traditional Christmas plant in southeastern Europe, notably in areas where Orthodox Church is the common religion. Orthodox Christmas takes place about two weeks later than in Western rites, around January 7. And this very early perennial is usually in bloom by then. Although mainly used in flower beds or naturalized in woodlands, it’s also sold as a gift plant at that season.

Elsewhere in Europe and pretty much everywhere in North America, this plant flowers too late to be a Christmas plant. Where I live, it isn’t even in bloom at Easter … it’s more like a Mother’s Day plant!

In Europe, the tradition of Christmas trees is well established and often spruce or pine, or even a juniper or other conifer, are used, depending on what is available locally.

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The Yule log tradition has trouble surviving in modern homes, as so many no longer have a functioning fireplace. Source: maeclair.net

The tradition of the Yule log has largely died out in Britain and Central Europe as it has in North America, but in many parts of Europe, notably in Scandanavia and Eastern Europe, it remains deeply entrenched. A Yule log is a very large hardwood log, the idea being to light it on Christmas Eve and have it burn through the night and Christmas Day. In the Balkans, the Yule log is called a badnjak (or budnik, according to the local language) and it is usually an oak, a symbol of longevity. Those who do not have a fireplace to burn a log in often decorate their apartment with twigs of oak.

In France, Belgium and Switzerland, the Yule log (bûche de Noël) has morphed into a log-shaped cake, traditionally served at Christmas … you don’t need a fireplace for that!

Mediterranean and Middle East

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A wreath decorated with pomegranates (Punica granatum). Source: www.clubbotanic.com

The main Christmas plant in this region is the pomegranate (Punica granatum): a perfect choice, as it matures at just the right time of year. Doors, fireplaces, tables, etc. are decorated with pomegranate fruits, both fresh and artificial.

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Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus). Source: Dominicus Johannes Bergsma, Wikimedia Commons

Two other plants often used in Christmas decorations are the shrubs butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) and firethorn (Pyracantha spp.), both bearing evergreen foliage and red berries.

In Israel, olive branches (Olea europaea) are offered at Christmas to friends as a symbol of peace.

Mexico

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Flower market full of poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) in Mexico just before Christmas. Source: casita-colibri.blog

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is native to Mexico and is popular in there, where it’s known as flor de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve flower). Butcher’s broom and firethorn, brought over from Spain, are also popular, as well as are several local plants that bloom at Christmas.

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Traditional Mexican Christmas punch with floating manzanitas (Crataegus mexicana). Source: http://www.goya.com

Manzanita, also called tejocote or manzanilla (Crataegus mexicana), a large-berried hawthorn, is another plant traditionally used as a Christmas decoration in many parts of Mexico and Central America. The orange fruits may be threaded onto a garland and are also used to make Christmas punch.

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Display of radishes on the Noche de Los Rábanos. Source: AlejandroLinaresGarcia, Wikimedia Commons

One of Mexico’s most curious Christmas traditions, however, is the Night of the Radishes (Noche de Los Rábanos), celebrated in the region of Oaxaca on December 23rd. In it, radishes are carved and arranged into some very impressive displays.

South America

Since most of this continent lies south of the equator, the seasons are inverted and Christmas takes place in summer, not winter. That means traditional Christmas plants of the Northern Hemisphere bloom six months too late for Christmas. As a result, the poinsettia is called “Easter flower” (flor de pascua) in many South American countries, because it blooms at Easter, while our Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is called “flor de maio” (May flower) in its country of origin, Brazil. Yet there is a Christmas cactus in these countries. The plant we call Easter cactus (Hatiora gaertneri, formerly Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) in the North is the “cactus de Navidad” and blooms at Christmas in much of South America.

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Colored berries of the Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius). Source: Javier Alejandro, flickr.

South Americans tend to use native plants as cut flowers or holiday plants at the Christmas season. Branches of the Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius) and its cousin, Peruvian peppertree (S. mollis), known in the north for the pink peppercorns they produce, are often used to decorate churches and houses during the holiday season, as they are loaded with small red berries at that time of year.

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Venezuelan Christmas orchid (Cattleya percivaliana). Source: QuazDelaCruz, Wikimedia Commons

Venezuela has its own Christmas orchid that blooms for the holidays: Cattleya perciviliana. Elsewhere in South America, the usual “orquídea de navidad” is Angraecum sesquipedale, actually native to Madagascar, but widely grown for its large white star-shaped flowers. It’s also called estrella of Belén (star of Bethlehem), but then, so are many other white, star-shaped flowers, including bulbs of the genus Ornithogalum.

In Paraguay, house and Christmas displays are often decorated with “flores de coco,” the long, fragrant inflorescences of a local palm tree, the coyol (Acrocomia aculeata). This pre-Christian tradition comes from the indigenous Guarani people.

Asia

In general, the concept of Christmas is relatively new to this continent and the celebration is mostly a commercial one of American inspiration, so there are often no traditional plants associated with the holiday, at least not long-standing ones. Most are the same Christmas plants seen in North America (poinsettias, Christmas cacti, etc.). Christmas trees, almost nonexistent only 30 years ago, for example, are now seen everywhere, although more often in shopping centers than in private homes. Usually artificial trees are used.

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Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica). Source: http://www.mailordertrees.co.uk

The Christian population in Japan is more firmly established than most in Asia and has solidly adopted the tradition of the Christmas tree, usually a real fir or spruce tree. Heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica, which is not a bamboo at all, but a shrub, is the second-best-known Christmas plant, with its scarlet fruits and red winter leaves. Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum morifolium), popular in all seasons in Japan, are widely used at Christmas too.

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Apples stamped with seasonal messages are common Christmas Eve gifts in China. Source: gbtimes.com

In China, an apple wrapped in colored paper or stamped with an appropriate seasonal message is often offered as a gift on Christmas Eve because the word “Christmas Eve,” translated as “night of peace” (Ping’an Ye) in Mandarin, sounds like the word apple (píngguǒ).

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Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii). Source: palmpedia.ne

In the tropical regions of Asia, the Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii), better known by its old name, Veitchia merrillii, is widely grown. With its stocky trunk and relatively short fronds, it looks like a dwarf royal palm … and bears bright red fruit at Christmas. Originally from the Philippines and Malaysia, this palm is now grown throughout the tropics.

Finally, in India, the golden Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’) is growing in popularity as a Christmas tree, but otherwise, Christmas is little celebrated in India.

Africa

The traditions of using Christmas plants are more firmly established in South Africa than in the center and north of the continent, brought to this region by European settlers (notably the Dutch and English).

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To Northeners, hortensias (Hydrangea macrophylla) just don’t say Christmas, but it warms the cockles of the heart of South Africans. Source: pxhere

Again, though, with the seasons being inverted, the South African Christmas plants are very different from those in the Northern Hemisphere. Notably, the hortensia (Hydrangea macrophylla), well-known in the North for its summer bloom, is called “Christmas flower” and is by far the most popular Christmas plant!

On the other hand, poinsettias are catching on as well. They have to be specially prepared in order to bloom at Christmas rather than in May, which is when they’d bloom if left on their own. Local nurserymen manage to do this by covering their production greenhouses with black cloth after 4 pm to ensure the short days necessary to stimulate bloom.

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Christmas bells (Sandersonia aurantiaca) are bulbs native to South Africa. Source: http://www.alanjolliffe.com

Various native plants also serve as Christmas plants, such as Christmas bush (Pavetta spp.), Christmas bells (Sandersonia aurantiaca) and Christmas berry (Chironia baccifera). Several plants imported from Australia, which has a similar climate, are also appreciated for their winter bloom. You’ll read more about those below. Africans also celebrate Christmas with many plants that are for us just typical summer flowers, like daisies, roses and zinnias.

Christmas trees are very popular in South Africa, but they use as subjects conifers adapted to local conditions, such as cypress (Cupressus spp., including C. macrocarpa), Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) and various pines (Pinus spp., including P. radiata).

Australia

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The Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is Australia’s favorite Christmas tree, AlfredSin, flickr

In Australia, the traditional Christmas tree is the native Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla). Grown in mostly as a houseplant in the northern hemisphere, where it rarely exceeds 5 feet (1.5 m) in height, in Australia, it can eventually reach up to 250 feet (65 m) in height, about 20 floors! Other mild-climate conifers from various parts of the world are also used as Christmas trees, including various pines.

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The Australian Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda). Source:  JarrahTree, Wikimedia Commons

And Australians have their own Ozzie Christmas tree, Nuytsia floribunda … but it’s not a conifer, but rather a broad-leaved tree. Moreover, it’s a parasitic tree (or rather hemiparasitic tree, since it does carry out its own photosynthesis) that steals most of its water and minerals from nearby plants! The Australian Christmas tree produces frothy spikes of orange-yellow flowers just in time for the holidays.

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One of many Christmas bushes in Australia: Ceratopetalum gummiferum. Source: gdaymateowyagoin, flickr

To add to this, each Australian state seems to have its own “Christmas bush,” always a shrub that produces masses of either flowers or colorful fruits at the right season, including Correa spp., Chromolaena odorata, Ceratopetalum gummiferum and Prosanthera laisanthos. Also, there are many bulbs that bloom at Christmas, including various species of Blandfordia, called “Christmas bells.” And Australia also has its own Christmas orchid: Calanthe triplicata, native to the north of the country

New Zealand

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New Zealand Christmas tree (Meterosideros excelsa). Source: Ed323, Wikimedia Commons

Mention Christmas tree to any New Zealander and they’ll immediately think of Meterosideros excelsa, a rounded broadleaf tree with feathery red flowers at Christmas. It’s called the New Zealand Christmas tree or pōhutukawa. And an introduced bulb from South America (Alstroemeria psittacina), with green-tipped red tubular flowers, has “gone native” and is well-known by locals as New Zealand Christmas bells.


So, wherever you travel around the world, there are always interesting Christmas plants to discover!

If you know of other Christmas plants, do not hesitate to let me know about them at laidbackgardener@gmail.com.20171224A HC.jpg