The most festive (and ubiquitous) flower of the holiday season is the scarlet-blooming
(Euphorbia pulcherrima). It’s an evergreen, semievergreen, or deciduous shrub that can thrive indoors or outdoors. Its showy, petal-like bracts are well-known at Christmastime, as it is omnipresent in the red single form. Other forms are double-bracted and/or white, yellow, and pink, but you’re most likely to encounter the scarlet leaves at your local garden stores.
CARE: Be sure to avoid overwatering poinsettia plants; take care to water moderately only when the soil becomes dry. Poinsettias require little in the way of care and will grow tall and leggy before you know it. If you take cuttings, do so in late summer and encourage blooming by ensuring new plants get up to 14 hours of darkness per day beginning in October.
Holly is a classic Christmas shrub, and the winterberry species (Ilex verticillata) is a hardy sort with dark green leaves. It’s native to North America, and the female plants bear clusters of vibrant scarlet berries that last through the winter. ‘Red Sprite’ bears large red berries, and the red berries of ‘Winter Red,’ a favorite across the South, last through February.
CARE: According to The Southern Living Garden Book, I. verticillata thrives in acid soil with regular water. It requires a moist, organic environment and has been known to grow wildly in boggy climes—often from 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. Other holly species have been known to grow to 50 feet tall, a reason they’re often chosen for privacy plantings and topiary.
This festive plant comes with a warning. While no holiday scene would be complete without a drop of evergreen mistletoe, it’s not commonly grown on purpose. American mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) is native from Florida to the mid-Atlantic and west to Texas. Its calling card is that it grows in a parasitic manner on the branches of host trees. Usually, the host tree is not harmed in this process, but it’s nearly impossible to remove mistletoe once it has taken root in the bark of a hardwood.
CARE: Clipping mistletoe for an arrangement (or for hanging from a ribbon in a doorway) won’t cause permanent removal in the host tree. According to The Southern Living Garden Book, for lasting removal of mistletoe, “the infested branch must be removed at least 1 foot below the point of attachment. But since this process may disfigure the tree and re-infestation from nearby trees is likely, it’s usually best to leave the tree alone.”