December Birth Flower

19 December 2023

To close out our year of flowers associated with a month in which one is born, we have a trio of choices.

Narcissus or Paperwhite

The same family as the spring daffodils, paperwhites bloom in this last month of the year.  They are all white with very thin, paperlike, petals (thus the name) that have a distinctive scent.  These are seasonal plants that usually come in a kit.  Follow the instructions for the bulb and you will have some winter blooms before you know it, actually about four weeks.  It takes several years for the bulb to rebloom and will work outdoors only in very warm climates.  So, once they have spent their flowers, you might was well throw the bulbs away.

The name comes from the Greek god who fell in love with his own reflection and the term has gotten some bad press over the years.  The flowers grew or were planted (depending on the version) at the place he succumbed.  The case can also be made for the word narkoa, which means to numb, alluding to the plant’s narcotic and toxic properties.

The plant originated somewhere in the Mediterranean and Asia and are thought to have been introduced into China by the arabs.  They are part of the Chinese New Year celebrations where their name is “shuixian,” which translates as “water fairy”

Paperwhite symbolism is pure love, hope, and devotion.



The more common end-of-the-year house plant is the poinsettia.  The part we all adore are the leaves, which are specialized to surround the actual flower, which is quite small and usually goes unnoticed.  They are a member of the Euphorbiaceae group and a cousin to the rubber tree.

The rubber tree produces latex.  So, if you are sensitive or allergic to latex, stay away from this plant.  Gastrointestinal problems can occur if a human or animal (like your pet pooch or kitty) eats too much, but the experts tell us that they are not inherently poisonous.  Still, don’t try it to see if you will get sick.

More properly known as cuetlaxochitl, this is an Aztec plant for the solstice.  Its name means “mortal flower that perishes and withers like all that is pure”.  It was considered a divine gift from the gods to signify rebirth.  It is native to Mexico and Central America.

In December 1828, newly appointed and first ambassador to the Republic of Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought back cuttings to his North Carolina home and as they grew in popularity in the United States, were given the name of poinsettia.

A Mexican legend is of a child unable to afford any gifts for Jesus on Christmas Eve offered weeds, which turned into poinsettias, or Flores de Noche Buena (“flowers of the holy night”).

They symbolize success and good cheer.



Holly is another unusual plant that we see at this time of the year.  Unlike the two previous house plants, this one is an outdoor variety.

This is a very familiar bush with green, prickly leaves with a bright red berry.  The holly does flower, just not as continuously as most other plants.  In fact, plant comes in both male and female and you need to have both in your garden to eventually see the red berries.  Only the female bears the red fruits we love to see.

Holly is indeed poisonous to both humans and animals.  However, it offers a great deal of shelter and food to a lot of wildlife.

It played a prominent role in the pagan winter solstice celebrations in Europe.  It was thought that it was a shelter for sprites and fairies during the long winter months.  If you brought some of the cut branches into your home, the fairies would follow and bring you good luck.

In Celtic culture it symbolized protection, warding off evil spirits, and to aid in fertility.  Both Norse and Celtic mythology associates the holly with Thor (Norse) and Taranis (Celtic), gods of thunder.  You may think this is a bit odd, but scientists tell us that the very ends of the leaves, the prickly part, conduct electricity, making it a natural lightning rod.

Another myth centers around the conflict between the Holly King and Oak King.  Each ruled over one half of the year from solstice to solstice.  The Holly King is a giant dressed in red wielding a large club made from holly wood, a sprig of holly in his hair and driving a team of eight stags.  Hmmm?

Christians felt that it was representative of Jesus’ sacrifice, i.e. the crown of thorns and drops of blood.

Today, florists wil tell you that it is a gesture of happiness and optimism.

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