Decorating with plants for the holiday season should go beyond wreaths and garland, especially in Sarasota’s subtropical beauty. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Director of Horticulture, Mike McLaughlin, shares his top five holiday-inspired plants that can make a festive impression, from a gift for a friend to enhancing your landscaping. If you’d like to see these beauties in person, a visit to Selby Gardens is a must! Most of these plants can be purchased at local nurseries, or online.
- Scarlet Star (Guzmania lingulata)
This bromeliad comes in reds, oranges and yellows on the brats. Paired with a stylish pot, this plant makes for a unique hostess gift as in indoor houseplant. It can also be placed outdoors to create a colorful accent to your usual greenery (it will only grow up to two feet in height). Because the Scarlet Star is spineless it is safe around pets and children. Keep them in a somewhat shady spot and let the soil dry between waterings. If you do use the Star outdoors, be sure to bring it indoors when temperatures dip below 50 degrees, McLaughlin said.
- Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
The poinsettia is a classic because it just works. They are relatively easy to care for and their colors – red, pink and marbled white – coordinate with most holiday displays. While you can find poinsettias everywhere during the season, invest in larger, better quality options because with proper care, poinsettias can last well beyond the holiday season as a landscape plant. They have a yellow flower that blooms a spot that is uninterrupted night (streetlights, flood lights, etc.).
- Christmas Orchid (Cattleya percivaliana)
This fragrant orchid was discovered in 1881 in Venezuela and became immediately popular because it does flower right at the end of December. This “wow” piece will show off its lavender, purple and orange blooms for about a month. It makes for a strong statement piece in any room.
“This orchid needs lots of air movement, bright light, and will hold up even at temperatures as low as 40 degrees, but we bring it in when it gets that cold,” McLaughlin said.
- Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera spp.)
A low-maintenance and popular holiday plant is the Christmas Cactus. It’s a commonly cultivated epiphyte, or air plant, that sprouts flowers in pink, purple, red, white, yellow or peach all holiday season. This Brazilian plant is best kept indoors. It takes up very little space, but should be placed in a room that gets sunlight, although not directly on the plant, McLaughlin said. While this is a cactus, it is still a tropical plant, so don’t let it dry out, and keep out of direct sunlight.
- Snowflake (Euphrobia leucocephala)
The Snowflake, or snow bush, comes from Central America, and Sarasota is at about the northern reaches of where this tree-like plant will grow.
“This is not a common plant in Florida, but it should be,” says McLaughlin. “It is easy to grow and lights up every year right around Christmas.”
Reaching anywhere from five to 12 feet tall by five to eight feet wide, The snowflake produced white, fragrant flowers. You could keep it in an oversize pot for smaller plants, or install it as part of your landscaping. The Snowflake is easy-to-grow, and as long as it gets lots of sunlight and well-drained soil you’ll have a unique plant that will be part of your holiday display for years to come.