The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 15, 2002
Garden Life

Let the ‘star of Bethlehem’ light up your lawn
Satish Narula

The "Star of Bethlehem" is among the plants associated with Christmas
The "Star of Bethlehem" is among the plants associated with Christmas

COME December and one thinks of Christmas. As a horticulturist, the season reminds me of plants and flowers that are associated with Christ and Christianity. We see some of them around us but are unaware about the significance attached to them. At times, we ignore them as they are not impressive to look at. The ‘Star of Bethlehem' is one such plant.

A cactus with strap-like 'stems' and 'leaves', it needs the support of a tree or a building roof even though it is not a parasite Its nocturnal blooming and strong fragrance have made this plant very popular. Also known as the 'queen of the night', its giant blooms appear in the dead of the night and disappear before dawn. 'The spectacular bloom symbolises Christ's birth in a manger. Look inside the open flower', says Harold Carver, Principal, St Stephen's School, explaining the various flower parts, 'and you will see angels hovering around, announcing the birth of Jesus who is wrapped in a flower-decked bed and the 'stable' in the backdrop (the big petals).' The plant takes a few years before it begins flowering. The 'Star of Bethlehem' in Carver's garden flowered last week and the blooms can still be seen on the plant. This plant is tropical in nature and easy to grow in this region. The one at the Sector 19 Church flowers quite often.

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Many of you may have grown passion flower climber that is prized for its lobed leaves and unusual blooms. The pleasantly scented flowers appear almost throughout the year. It is also called by some as the ghari (watch) or rakhi (the thread of brother's love). Look at the flower and you will find five prominent lobes protruding out of the centre of the bloom depicting the five wounds of Christ. The base of the bloom is cream with a red centre, symbolising the blood of Christ. It is named the passion flower as it portrays the passion and suffering of Christ. It is a fast-growing climber.

A plant that adorned the Holy head is the euphorbia milli, normally called euphorbia. It has poisonous milk sap and long, rigid and piercing spines. It has insignificant flowers at the terminals surrounded by two bright red blood drop-like bracts, representing the oozing blood of Christ. The plant strikes root very fast when a few-inch long terminal segment is inserted in sand for a few days. Then it can be transplanted. But when you make the cuttings, the milky sap that oozes out should first be washed with water and then the cutting left out in the shade to dry for a day or two before inserting it in the sand.

A gardeners' favourite, the poinsettia, is another plant that is associated with Christmas due to its bright red, star-shaped magnificent bracts surrounding insignificant yellow flowers. The plant is also known as the Christmas Star and it adds colour to a Christmas tree and other decorations. Remember, this is not the double-flowering poinsettia, which is also known as the fireball. With so many blooms associated with Christmas, you can amply fill your garden and home with the Yuletide spirit. Happy decorating!