Beautiful Berries for Fall and Winter


Monkshood vine (Ampelopsis aconitifolia) brightens up late fall with its jewel-like berries. Source:

When we select plants for our gardens, we tend to look first for flowering plants and, indeed, we’re lucky to have them. They really do add a lot of beauty to our landscape. But while there are different flowers that bloom from spring to mid-autumn, blooms start to disappear as fall advances … and except in the mildest climates, there really isn’t much in the way of winter bloom.

That’s why, for fall color, we’ve learned to largely rely on trees and shrubs with attractive fall foliage colors … but even these eventually lose their charm. In most cases, colorful fall leaves drop off with the arrival of the first deep frost.

There is really only one group of plants whose main season of interest is late fall through winter: a select group of shrubs, vines and trees that bear beautiful, long-lasting fruits. Often, they only come into their own once the leaves fall: suddenly the berries, hitherto out of sight, are the stars of the garden!

Beauty and Birds Too!


Bohemian waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) filling up on mountain ash berries. Source:

These same trees and shrubs that wow us with fall and winter berries also attract birds to the garden (animals too, but most gardeners prefer birds to squirrels). In fact, fruit-eating birds such as waxwings, grosbeaks and cardinals will be much more abundant in your neighborhood if you plant trees and shrubs with winter fruit. There is even an order in which the birds harvest persistent berries, from the sweetest (first to go) to the most bitter … largely because bitter fruits slowly sweeten over the winter and the worst only become palatable (for birds) when winter is nearly over!

Birds like fruits so much that they empty many trees and shrubs of their berries well before winter begins! Here, therefore, I’ve only included those whose fruits hang on at least into November.

Trees and Shrubs with Late Season Berries

Here are some plants whose colorful fruits persist for months, some well into February or even March.


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Sugar Tyme’ crabapple (Malus Sugar Tyme’) is a blaze of berries from fall through most of winter. Source: Donell Clauser,

Nurseries offer a wide range of crabapples (Malus spp.), but not all have persistent fruit. Many mature early in the fall and their fruit drops off almost immediately. However, others have fruits that persist almost all winter. Curiously, it’s the varieties with the smallest fruits—no bigger than the tip of your little finger—that are usually the most persistent.

These tiny crabapples come in different shades of red, purple, orange and yellow … and the same trees also produce abundant and often fragrant blooms in spring, with pink, white, red or purple flowers. Crabapples with persistent fruits therefore have two seasons of interest widely spaced over time.

Do note that I did not include crabapples on my “list of crabapples with winter interest” any that are highly prone to insects and diseases, especially to apple scab, the most widespread apple disease. After all, why plant a crabapple tree that will spend its life looking like it’s dying?

The following crabapples meet two criteria: they have long-lasting fruit and good to excellent disease and pest resistance.

  1. M. ‘Adams’
  2. M. ‘Adirondack’
  3. M. baccata ‘Jacki’
  4. M. ‘Guinevere’
  5. M. ‘Jewelberry’
  6. M. ‘Molten Lava’
  7. M. Perpetu ‘Evereste’
  8. M. ‘Prairifire’
  9. M. ‘Sugar Tyme’
  10. M. sargentii
  11. M. sargentii ‘Tina’

These crabapples come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but all are at least fairly small trees, so are suitable for today’s smaller gardens. Also, they are low enough to you can grow them under electric wires without the need for drastic pruning. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Dimensions: 13 to 23 feet (4–7 m) x 6 to 20 feet (2–6 m). Zone: 2 to 4, depending on the cultivar.


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Winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’) certainly brightens up winter days! Source:

This shrub native to eastern North America, Ilex verticillata, is one of the most conspicuous shrubs in winter, with innumerable round red berries.

It’s actually a holly (genus Ilex), but it doesn’t fit our image of a holly, lacking the thick, spiny, evergreen leaves that are so typical of those used as Christmas decorations. Instead, the winterberry’s thin, narrow, spine-free leaves turn bright red in the fall, then drop off, revealing the colorful fruits.

There are many cultivars, some with orange or yellow berries, but the most important detail to understand is that winterberries are dioecious, that is to say that the male and female flowers are borne on different plants. So, you have to plant at least one male holly to pollinate up to eight female plants, otherwise you won’t see a single fruit. Nurserymen often make that easy for us by planting a male plant and a female plant in the same pot.

Winterberry is a medium-sized shrub with dark green summer leaves. The tiny white flowers in late spring aren’t very showy, as they tend to be hidden by foliage. This holly prefers rich, rather humid soil and tolerates acid soils without difficulty. Dimensions: 4 to 5 feet (1-1.5 m) x 3 to 7 feet (90–200 cm). Zone 3 or 4, depending on the cultivar.

Japanese Barberry


Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii). Source:

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is generally grown for its small but colorful summer leaves, as most cultivars have either purple to reddish leaves (B. t. ‘Concorde’, B. t. ‘Ruby Carrousel’, etc.) or golden leaves (B. t. ‘Aurea Nana’), but, often to the great surprise of those who plant them, they also offer very beautiful, long-lasting fruits in the form of small, elongated, bright red berries that grow pretty much unseen until the foliage drops in late fall.

Be forewarned that this plant has many short, nasty spines. It makes an excellent defensive planting: plant it under your home’s windows and you can be sure no thieves will try to break in!

If you live in a region where Japanese barberry is invasive, you might want to look for sterile cultivars.

Most Japanese barberry cultivars offered are dwarf varieties with a dense, rounded habit. Grow barberry in well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Dimensions: 18 to 36 inches (45–90 cm) x 36 to 48 inches (90–120 cm). Zone 4b.

There are also other barberry species with decorative winter fruits, but these are mostly limited to climates with fairly mild winters (zones 7 to 9).



The ghostly white berries of snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus). Source:

The snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) actually grows wild just about everywhere in North America, but it is widely used as an ornamental shrub, notably for hedges, in temperate regions worldwide. Its appearance is usually quite discreet in summer, because its leaves are simply mid green while the small pink flowers are usually well hidden. It is only when the leaves drop off in the fall that you really discover that, under all that foliage, there are dozens and dozens of snow-white berries.

If white is not your color, there are also Symphoricarpos species and hybrids with pink, lilac, red or purple berries. They are usually called coralberries rather than snowberries.

Snowberry is a versatile shrub, tolerant of all soils and growing in both shade and sun. It’s very hardy—to zone 2—as is common coralberry (S. orbiculatus, with coral-red fruit), but the hybrid varieties whose berries come a nice range of quite unique colors are usually a little less hardy (zones 4 to 6, depending on the variety.) Here are three popular hybrid varieties adapted zone 4: ‘Magic Berry’, ‘Amethyst’ and ‘Mother of Pearl’. Dimensions: 4 to 5 feet (1-1.5 m) x 5 feet (1.5 m).

Monkshood Vine

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The stunningly coloured berries of monkshood vine (Ampelopsis aconitifolia). Source:

This is a very different plant from the previous ones, because monkshood vine (Ampelopsis aconitifolia) is a climbing plant and, in fact, a very vigorous climber, reaching to the top of trees if you let it. It looks much like a grape vine, with the same tendrils that wrap around thin branches and trellis rungs and similar, maple leaf-shaped leaves, although they are more deeply cut.

In summer, the plant is essentially just a big green vine. Even its tiny flowers are green. Come fall, though, and the berries appear … and what berries! They go through a whole range of colors—turquoise, violet and purple—before reaching the orangey yellow they’ll keep in winter. Often, there are two or three colors at the same time on the same stem!

Unfortunately, despite the spectacular beauty of this plant and its excellent hardiness (zone 4 or even 3), monkshood vine is hard to find in nurseries.


Porcelain vine (Ameplopsis brevipedunculata ‘Elegans’) has both variegated leaves and colourful berries. Source:

They seem to prefer selling us a variegated relative: porcelain vine (A. brevipedunculata ‘Elegans’). It’s a bit too invasive for my tastes … and the variegated foliage tends to disappear out over time unless you ruthlessly rogue out the ever-more-numerous all-green reversions it produces. Still, it does have lovely berries! It’s a bit less hardy than monkshood vine: zone 5.

Both ampelopsis species grow best in well-drained soil, either in sun or in shade … but fruiting is most abundant in the sun. Dimensions: 10 to 40 feet (3–12 m) x 10 to 30 feet (3–9 m).

Other Fall and Winter Berries to Discover

Here is a list of other shrubs, trees or climbers with persistent berries that can brighten up your falls and winters:

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Firethorn (Pyracantha spp.) has both evergreen leaves and abundant persistant berries, but it’s not very hardy. Source: Laitr Keiows, Wikimedia Commons

  1. Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) zone 4b
  2. Beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.) zone 6
  3. Bittersweet (Celastrus spp.) zone 3
  4. Chokeberry (Aronia spp.) zone 3
  5. Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.) zones 3 to 9, depending on species
  6. Euonymus (Euonymus spp.) zone 3 to 8, depending on species
  7. European cranberrybush(Viburnum opulus) zone 3
  8. Evergreen holly (Ilex spp.) zone 5 to 9, by species
  9. Firethorn (Pyracantha spp.) zone 7
  10. Harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum fargesii) zone 7
  11. Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) zone 3 to 6, depending on species
  12. Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) zone 6
  13. Ivy (Hedera helix and others) zone 7
  14. Mountain ash (Sorbus spp.) zone 2 to 6, depending on species
  15. Rose (Rosa spp.) zone 1 to 10, depending on species
  16. Rowan tree (Sorbus spp.) zone 2 to 6, depending on species
  17. Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) zone 2b
  18. Sumac (Rhus spp.) zone 3 to 10, depending on species

May your fall and winter garden be filled with gorgeous berries!

Christmas Plants Around the World

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Christmas plants differ according to region. Source;

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.


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.


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

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:

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.


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

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


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

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.



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

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.


Traditional Mexican Christmas punch with floating manzanitas (Crataegus mexicana). Source:

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.


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:

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.


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

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:

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.


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:

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).


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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 HC.jpg