During the last quarter of the year, people were preoccupied with decorating their homes, schools, workplaces, and parks in preparation for the holidays. Most of these decors were inspired by plants and animals. This article slightly deviates from the usual socio-political discourse. Allow me to share few facts this holidays—a gardener’s note:
Poinsettia’s red petal
It is a common misconception that the attractive red colored part of Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulchirimma) is a flower, when actually it is not. The red portion in Poinsettia is a specialized leaf called bract. Evolutionary botany suggests that the bract was developed through time in order to attract pollinators given that the actual flower of poinsettia is small.
Bracts are also present in some other plants with small flowers or florets, like the Bougainvillea and the Mussaenda plants. December 12 is declared as the Poinsettia day, following the death anniversary of Joel Roberts Poinsett, a former US Ambassador to Mexico, who discovered and propagated the Poinsettia plant.
Rudolph’s red nose
During the great depression in 1930’s, Robert L. May, a low-paid copywriter, was tasked by his company Montgomery Ward to create a Christmas Book to cut the cost. The company also suggested that an animal should be a central figure. The books were intended for their shoppers as tokens for the Holiday season. This gave rise to the famous fictional character, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.
Only this year, a study by an anthropology professor at Dartmouth, Nathaniel J. Dominy, suggested that Rudolph’s red nose has a scientific basis. Arctic Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus), the species which Rudolph belongs to, needs to adapt to the thick fog during winter in the Arctic region. One adaptive response is the luminescence of the Reindeer’s nose, which serves as a fog light during the winter in order to provide a clearer vision during its travel.
The Christmas tree
Ancient traditions recognize evergreen plants as a symbol of hope and life, among other significance, long before Christianity. Traditions from early civilizations, such as ancient Egyptians, Early Romans, Ancient Celts and the Scandinavian Vikings, noted that during the winter season, evergreens served as a promise towards a greener environment after the Winter Solstice. Some culture honor the evergreens to pay respect to their gods and goddesses.
Only in the 16th century Germany that the Christmas tree was popularized as devout Christians made it a tradition to decorate trees inside their homes. The advent of technology provides an advance in the quality of our modern day Christmas tree.
But what is more interesting about the Holidays is not the celebration or the festivity per se, rather it is the interaction of people with nature. The varying traditions from solstices, evolution and culture would lead us to the question: What awaits us in the next holidays with the worsening change in our climate brought by multi-national plunder of our environment?
And this question needs to be answered both in theory and in praxis in 2016. Happy New Year to all!