12 Plants of Christmas
The summer gardening season is here, which means plenty of plant choices to help spread the festive cheer
22 November 2018
Festive greenery and bright, beautiful blooms are sure to bring joy to any garden this Christmas season. There’s a wealth of plants and flowers you can grow to celebrate, from the classic poinsettia for a vibrant indoor display to the native Christmas bush found growing in almost every state of Australia. Whether you choose the traditional red, green, silver and gold or a multicoloured display, these 12 plants promise to delight.
Originating from Mexico, this quintessential Christmas pot plant bears bright crimson bracts and clusters of tiny golden yellow buds at their centre. The plants are actually forced into flower in Australia during the festive season as they only bloom naturally in winter, when it's much colder. Poinsettias like a cool room temperature around 20°C and a sunny position, only requiring minimal watering when the soil becomes dry. They’re not just pretty in a vase or pot either, poinsettias also make a great feature in a festive garland, eye-catching wreath or even nestled amongst the branches of your Christmas tree. After the plant finishes flowering you can give it a good pruning to encourage more flowers, though ensure you wear gloves as the branches leak a milky white sap that can cause skin irritation.
Did you know the largest mistletoe in the world exists in Australia? The sweet honey smell and gorgeous golden blooms of the West Australian Christmas tree make up this unique type of mistletoe that provides a rich food source for birds, insects and other mammals. Mistletoe plants are semi-parasitic and grow high up in the canopies of a wide variety of trees including eucalypts, wattles and mangroves. They have had a bit of a bad rap over the years as sap-sucking plants that kill trees, but mistletoes can be highly beneficial, particularly to wildlife including koalas, sugar gliders, insects and birds.
The Christmas bush is a group of festively named trees that grow in almost every Australian state. The plant bears dainty coloured sepals dappled over branches like fairy lights, turning into a rainbow of colours just in time for Christmas. In New South Wales this is the Ceratopetalum gummiferum tree, with striking red and magenta star-shaped flowers. In Queensland, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania, the Victorian Christmas bush (Prostanthera lasianthos), with its pink, purple and white flowers, thrives. Elsewhere, the South Australian and Tasmanian Christmas bush (Bursaria spinosa) boasts small, sweet-smelling cream-coloured blooms and grows in all states except Western Australia. WA, however, is the exclusive home of the West Australian Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda) boasting resplendent golden blossoms at this time of year. To achieve the brightest petals, each Christmas bush species needs to be positioned in a sun-drenched spot in the garden.
This small native plant derives from the lily family and can be found growing wild in swampy heath and open patches of sand in New South Wales. It’s an unmistakable plant thanks to its flamboyant bell-shaped scarlet and orange flowers with vibrant yellow tips that hang from curved stems, in bloom from December through to February. The dainty moisture-loving plants stand up well to heat and form thick fibrous roots, best suited to growing in sandy lime-free soil in a sunny position sheltered from the wind. The flowers grow in clusters, with grass-like, stiff leaves forming around the stems. A rockery with ample watering will keep this plant very happy.
This small genus of easy-to-grow flowering bulbs, also known as Hippeastrum, boasts large trumpet-shaped blooms perfect for the silly season. The striking flowers are easily grown indoors and out, blooming just six to eight weeks after planting. Often seen bearing fiery red, pink, orange and cream blooms, the plants thrive in pots and require little watering, rewarding you with a beautiful fragrance and showy flowers from the end of spring through to early summer, depending on planting time. Though they can be brought inside when in bloom, Christmas lilies survive best in full sun or partial shade outside, though can also be grown in a greenhouse if you live in an area prone to frost, best planted in a bright spot in moist, humus-rich soil with good drainage, requiring regular watering when in flower.
Like a long-awaited Christmas parcel, these gorgeous flowers pop up in the garden just in time for the festivities to which they owe their name. Rewarding patient gardeners with their sweet perfume and graceful trumpet-shaped blooms growing in glorious shades of pastel yellow, pink and cream, they make a wonderful cut flower for an indoor display. This Lilium is more commonly known as the November lily in warm climates and the Christmas lily in cooler parts and is incredibly easy to cultivate, sprouting from a clustered bulb best sown in well-drained, lime-free soil enriched with organic matter and kept slightly moist. Plant in a spot that gets morning sun and protection from the afternoon heat.
Officially denoted as the floral emblem of New South Wales in 1962, the waratah plant is an iconic Australian native with spectacular flowers that stand out like a beacon, able to be spotted from far away thanks to their bright crimson colour. The name waratah is an Aboriginal word that means beautiful and the plant truly is thanks to its striking flower heads made up of lots of tiny florets protected by colourful pointed bracts. In bloom from spring, there are five species of waratah found along the east coast of Australia, most commonly seen in bushland but can also be grown in the garden. Though a little more challenging to establish, it is possible to grow waratahs yourself. Ideally plant them in slightly acidic, well-drained soil amongst native trees if possible to give them the dappled shade they like, and avoid the use of fertilisers unless they are low-phosphorus and specifically formulated for native plants. Mulch well to help mimic their natural growing conditions, and water well during dry periods. Prune at waist level, only after flowering.
This native evergreen terrestrial orchid grows naturally in rich soil in rainforests. Growing widely from New South Wales to Queensland, the orchid flowers over summer with multiple showy white blooms perched on an erect stem, attracting all manner of bees, butterflies and wasps. It grows best in shady spots in moist soil and can be hard to get your hands on without joining an orchid society or specialist group. The Christmas orchid makes an excellent pot plant for warm, tropical gardens.
Also known as Christmas cactus, this beautiful plant is not, in fact, a desert cactus but an epiphyte originating from the humid jungles of Brazil. The plants boast a striking range of flower colours from punchy pink and orange to pastel yellow and cream. Zygocactus is an ideal low-maintenance indoor plant happy in low light or a bright room, though avoid positioning in direct sunlight as it can burn its leaves. Zygocactus does need frequent watering when in flower; the soil shouldn’t be allowed to dry out completely, but demands little else and is not difficult to manage.
Dubbed the native Christmas tree thanks to its outburst of dramatic orange blooms in time for the festive season, this hemiparasitic species is actually a giant mistletoe - the world’s largest, in fact, found growing in south-western Australia as a tree rather than the more common shrub form attached to a tree. They are exceptionally resilient trees, withstanding bushfires and harsh temperatures due to their greedy, invasive roots that feed off surrounding plantation. The tree has natural built-in blades for slicing into the roots of other plants to steal sap, so consider what you have already grown close by if you choose to plant this native Christmas tree in your backyard.
This silver, velvet-like shrub originates from the south coast of Western Australia and makes a great feature plant, particularly if grown in a large pot as a Christmas tree. Well suited to dry, less humid climates such as those found in southern Australia, the bush is drought-tolerant once established, likes sandy or loamy soil and makes an excellent hedge or border plant if not in use as a festive tree. Its fine furry foliage is very soft to the touch and bears small red flowers from early summer through to autumn, providing a food source for birds.
These trees may not have the traditional Christmas foliage you had in mind for a festive plant article, but eucalypts are an incredibly beautiful, wildlife-attracting feature of the Australian landscape that shouldn’t be overlooked. Their silver-grey foliage and wide range of shapes and sizes makes them a beautiful feature of the garden, able to be pruned into shape or left to grow wild. Found in bushland around the country, the iconic gum trees are famed as the food source of choice for the country’s beloved koala population and there are over 900 known species of eucalypts across Australia. The Tasmanian blue gum is the floral emblem of Tasmania and bears cream flowers rich in honey nectar with blue-grey leaves emitting the evocative eucalyptus fragrance. The tree’s foliage makes a beautiful addition to Christmas tables and festive wreaths.