Different colours: Amaryllis and Ponsettias
red amaryllis in vase with Christmas decorations
It is a no-brainer why poinsettia and amaryllis are popular festive flowers. They are red, they are available, and they are associated with myths and legends of love and self-sacrifice.
But why red, and for that matter green and white, as the colours of Christmas? Almost universally, red stands for love, and also for life as it is the colour of blood. In the Christian tradition, red has the significance of sacrificial blood, green the shoots of new life (hope) and white for purity. But the symbolism of these colours goes way back to pre-Christian times. It is speculated that red holly berries were a pagan symbol during the winter solstice celebrations.
In ancient Rome, the Romans decorated their homes with evergreen branches at the turning of the year and the fir tree (which became the Christmas tree) symbolised life during winter. Whether one religion assimilated another’s symbols or not, there seems to be a deep instinct in humanity to come together in celebration, for feast days and holidays, to mark the passing seasons and years.
The poinsettia also has its own myth. According to legend, a Mexican girl on her way to churchon Christmas eve didn’t have a gift for baby Jesus so she picked some weeds. When she laid them in front of the nativity, they burst into beautiful colour. From then on poinsettia was known as Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night.
Almost a century later, capitalism kicked in when an American entrepreneur Paul Ecke jnr recognised its potential as an indoor plant, mainly for the festive season. He sent free poinsettia plants to TV studios across the country, including The Tonight Show and Bob Hope’s holiday specials. It caught on in the United States and has subsequently spread across the world.
As an indoor plant, poinsettia likes a warm room in a position that receives good indirect light but no direct sunlight. The plants prefer moist soil but not sodden. Allow the water to drain into a saucer and discard excess water. If the soil remains wet the plant can wilt, and root rot can set in. To
keep it going feed it with a houseplant fertiliser once a month. Do not fertilise when in bloom.
Amaryllis too is a natural gift plant, with its large, trumpet-shaped blooms. In modern Greece, Amaryllis is a female name that means “to sparkle”, but the story of Amaryllis goes back to Ancient Greece. Myth has it that Amaryllis was a maiden who fell in love with Alteo, a shepherd with a passion for flowers. He took no notice of her, so she consulted with the Oracle of Delphi. She was advised to stand in front of Alteo’s house for 30 nights piercing her heart with a golden arrow.
On the 30th night, a beautiful flower grew from her blood. Alteo fell in love with the flower, and fortunately with Amaryllis as well (who, fortunately, recovered from the blood loss). Outdoors Amaryllis plants prefer partial sunlight or full shade. Avoid wetting the portion of the bulb that is above the soil. If red is not your favourite festive flower colour, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in the same league as the Grinch who stole Christmas.
The beauty of both plants, and poinsettia in particular, is that there are other colours.
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