Category Archives: Something Interesting


Sunflowers. Beautiful, cheerful sunflowers. Flowers that resemble the sun with their rays of golden yellow petals. Aside from roses, sunflowers are perhaps the most recognizable and friendliest of flowers.

At the sight of sunflowers, people are often transported in their minds to driving past fields of sunflowers in the Midwest or seeing the mammoth sunflowers that grandma grew in the backyard – you know, the ones that towered over you as a child. Or, there is a memory of picking the ripe sunflower seeds of the spent flower. I can also remember watching birds swarming around ripe sunflowers – perched on the fence, tree branches, wherever and taking turns flying to the flowers, pecking off some seeds, landing on the ground to eat them, and then back again, with the occasional altercation or squirrel.

Here are some interesting facts about sunflowers.

sunflower2_eatbreathegardenSunflowers are Helianthus annuus, from the Greek words ‘helios’ for ‘the sun’ and ‘anthos’ for ‘flower.’ ‘Annuus’ for ‘annual’ references the flower’s complete life cycle in one growing season.

Sunflowers are native to North America. Though several of my favorite plants are native to other parts of the world, sunflowers are native to this continent. Native Americans traditionally used sunflowers for culinary, medicinal, and dye-making purposes.

sunflowerringoffire_eatbreathegardenSunflowers come in a variety of colors and sizes. The “traditional” sunflower has mustard yellow petals surrounding a dark center, atop a tall sturdy stem. There are a multitude of different flower heights and colors. ‘Mammoth Russian’ sunflowers are as big as the name suggests and grow up to approximately 15 feet tall (Renee’s Garden). (Check out more tall sunflower varieties.) There are dwarf types, including ‘Elves Blend’ which grows 16 inches to 2 feet tall (Botanical Interests) – and then everything in between. There are also sunflowers with the creamy yellow – almost white petals of ‘Vanilla Ice’ (Burpee), burgundy petals of ‘Chocolate’ (Johnny’s Selected Seed), and the bicolor flowers like ‘Strawberry Blonde’ (Johnny’s Selected Seed) or ode-to-Johnny-Cash ‘Ring of Fire’ (Seed Savers Exchange). Check out the unusual, “shaggy blooms” of ‘Teddy Bear’ (Johnny’s Selected Seed) or the beautiful blend of fall colors of ‘Autumn Beauty’ (Seed Savers Exchange). New in 2016 – ‘Sundancer’ grows quickly to 4-6 feet tall and blooms early in the season (Renee’s Garden).

The tallest sunflower measured at 30 feet 1 inch tall. The Guinness World Record holder was grown by Hans-Peter Schiffler in Germany in 2014. That’s about 2.5 stories tall! (Check out a video of the tallest sunflower.)

Sunflowers are hyperaccumulators – or “soil cleaners.” Sunflowers aren’t just pretty faces. They are used in phytoremediation to help rehabilitate soils and groundwater that contain heavy metals, such as lead, uranium, and cesium. In fact, sunflowers were planted near Chernobyl and Fukushima to remove the toxins after the nuclear plant disasters.

Young sunflowers track the sun’s movements in a process called heliotropism. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about sunflowers is the young plants’ ability to follow the sun as it moves in the sky throughout the day. A young plant starts its day greeting the sun as it rises in the east. Then the tip growth moves during the day, “following” the angle of the sun before ending its day facing west at sunset. During the night, it resets itself to once again face east by sunrise in the morning. Eventually as growth develops and flower buds form, the stem hardens and becomes rigid, not allowing for further movement. The sunflower ends up facing east, generally speaking, and no longer tracks the movement of the sun. Read more about these flowers’ circadian rhythm and why the it tracks the sun. watch time lapse video of a sunflower seedling tracking the sun.

sunflower3_eatbreathegardenHave you ever noticed the Fibonacci patterns on the sunflower? Look closely at the center of a sunflower, and you’ll notice a spiral pattern. You may have also noticed this pattern on agave, cactus thorns,  snail shells, the Milky Way, hurricane formations, the bottom of a pine cone, and more. The sunflower florets are arranged in a unique mathematical pattern as to create a series of interconnected spirals. Read more about what causes this.

sunflowercutflowers_eatbreathegardenActivities with Sunflowers

  • Watch time lapse video of a sunflower seedling tracking the sun.
  • Sow sunflower seeds, either by direct sow in the garden or in pots to transplant later in the garden. Try growing the giant sunflowers in your garden – research how to grow the biggest, tallest varieties in your garden.sunflowerarrangement_eatbreathegarden
  • Create sunflower arrangements using flowers cut from the garden or purchased from the florist.
  • Examine a sunflower up close. Notice the rigidness and height of the stems, the texture of the leaves and stems, the soft fuzziness of the point where the back of the flower meets the stem, the Fibonacci patterns of the flower’s “eye,” the colorful petals, the sticky part of the flower’s “eye” (at least on cut flowers, that is)…what else? This can be quite a grounding sensory experience.
  • Notice the Fibonacci patterns of the sunflower florets and study other plants and objects in nature that also contain this pattern. Learn more about the Golden Ratio – this could possibly be a bridge, or lead into a conversation, about the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated.sunflowervase_eatbreathegarden
  • Examine pictures of Monet’s sunflower paintings or Van Gogh’s series of sunflower paintings painted in anticipation of a visit from his buddy Paul Gauguin. Think about how nature has inspired the masters’ work, particularly Van Gogh who painted sunflowers in all stages – from young flowers to those past their prime. Create your own floral arrangement featuring sunflowers and then have the group sit in a circle around the arrangement. Then encourage them to paint or sketch a still life from their perspective. Paintings and sketches will most likely be different from all angles and can be a good topic about perspective in a group discussion.
  • Harvest sunflower seed once ripened. Pick the sunflower seeds out of the flower head by hand – this challenges fine motor skills.
  • Scatter sunflower seed, with other birdseed, outside for the birds. Or, fashion birdseed “cookies” with seed, flour, water, and corn syrup. Hang outdoors using a piece of twine as a hanging bird feeder. (Birdseed ornament recipe here.)


Creating a Wildlife Friendly Habitat

In 2015, I wrote about an initiative in which President Obama proposed a “pollinator highway” that extends along Interstate 35.  The I-35 corridor runs north to south from Minnesota through Texas and follows the monarch butterfly migration route. I-35 runs right through the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and every fall it is an amazing spectacle to see the monarchs feeding on nectar plants as they travel through on their way to Mexico for the winter. (Check out the monarch migration routes in North America on the map found here. Read more about pollinators here.) This highway would be planted with milkweed and other pollinator friendly plants that would make for easy “rest stops” for butterflies (and other pollinators too!) to eat and rest along their journey. (Read more about the pollinator highway proposal here.)

Monarch butterflies on Salvia ‘Mystic Spires Blue’

Fast forward to late 2015, the National Wildlife Federation sponsored an initiative called the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, which is “a national campaign asking mayors to commit their cities to a series of specific actions to make their urban habitat friendlier to the declining monarch butterfly and other wildlife” (Argueta, 2015). Several mayors in the Dallas-Fort Worth area signed this pledge, along with mayors from communities around the country. (Read more about the pledge here.)

Swallowtail caterpillar on bronze fennel

In therapeutic horticulture programs, teach clients about pollinators and other wildlife. In learning their stories, these can become great lessons on shifting focus from the self to the broader world and recognizing that we are all citizens of the world, even bees, hummingbirds, and bats. A client might also be able to compare his or her own experiences in dealing with personal challenges when learning about the plight of certain pollinators, who themselves face various challenges like threatened habitats. The story of the trek that the monarchs make during their migration can be a metaphor for the hero’s journey – overcoming the odds and experiencing transformation through struggle.

Sulphur butterfly on petunia

One way to introduce this concept is to join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and cultivate a wildlife friendly garden as part of your program…then get your garden certified as a wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. A wildlife friendly garden incorporates food and water sources for various types of wildlife, options for shelter and places to raise their young, and sustainable gardening practices. In order to meet the requirements of NWF’s wildlife habitat program, refer to their website for more details.

Bee on Texas mountain laurel

During National Horticultural Therapy Week this week, the staff, clients, and volunteers at Arden Courts of Richardson in Texas held a ceremony to honor the recent NWF wildlife habitat distinction of their gardens, which include raised beds, containers, and in-ground planting beds. This distinction was earned as the result of many people’s hard work, sweat, and plenty of dirt under our fingernails. The gardens contain a variety of sensory stimulating herbs and other plants that are pollinator friendly and drought and heat tolerant, birdhouses, birdbaths, among other garden features. Check out some photos of our garden spaces.eatbreathegarden_wildlifehabitatsign

eatbreathegarden_ACbutterfly eatbreathegarden_ACAsters eatbreathegarden_ACgarden eatbreathegarden_ACpots eatbreathegarden_ACraisedbed eatbreathegarden_ACsunflower eatbreathegarden_ACgardens

Hanami – Celebrating the Ephemeral Beauty of the Cherry Blossom

The Yoshino cherry trees are blooming here in North Texas – celebrating the start of spring right along with us. Now is the time to get outdoors and enjoy their beautiful white and blush pink floral displays. And quick – check them out before their striking beauty fades, or you’ll have to wait another year before they bloom again.

eatbreathegarden_cherrytree_HanamiCherry blossoms represent the ephemeral beauty of nature, a time of renewal and rejuvenation, and, more largely, the fleeting nature of life itself. Also known as sakura, cherry blossoms are treasured in Japanese culture, depicted in ancient and modern Japanese art, and celebrated each year during the Hanami festival. Hanami is a time when people in Japan celebrate the bloom time of this magnificent harbinger of spring. Translated as “flower viewing,” Hanami is when plantings of various Prunus are viewed and enjoyed all over the country. This practice dates back to the 8th century and has grown in interest over the years. In Japan, cherry trees bloom first in the southern part of the country in March and last through May when the last of the cherries bloom in the north. Just like meteorologists predict the weather patterns, so-called blooming forecasters study the weather in order to predict the bloom time of the cherry trees across the country. (Check out a cherry bloomtime map of Japan here.)

eatbreathegarden_springflowers_cherrytrees“We Japanese can’t miss Hanami,” says Japanese culture consultant Motoko Ishihara Evans. “Hanami is just like a picnic under cherry blossoms. It’s a long tradition to appreciate beautiful cherry blossoms in spring. Even [in the] 16th century they enjoyed Hanami.” Families celebrate Hanami by picnicking, socializing, and playing games under the blooming cherry trees. Motoko talks about the eager anticipation and festivities of this time of year. “We eat lunch, under the trees. At night there are lanterns, and [we] eat and drink sake or beer. In Japan it’s not illegal to drink in public places. Some people sing. It’s like a party. Even children go to Hanami with snacks and drinks. We go out for Hanami with friends, family, and coworkers. All over Japan we wait for cherry blossoms in bloom.”

eatbreathegarden_springflowersHanami and the application for horticultural therapy practitioners

Horticultural therapy clients can derive personal meaning from this message about honoring the ephemeral yet beautiful nature of life through the metaphor of the cherry blossoms, especially through the example of Hanami. Though the cherries bloom for a short time, the Japanese people celebrate this time with their loved ones, enjoying quality time with one another. “Celebrating special moments, like cherry blossom time, can mark the cycle of life by using tangible plant material as a symbol for the annual passage of time or to evoke special, pleasant memories where the client recalls happy or poignant experiences and occasions,” wrote Margaret Shillingford, BS, MEd, and Lesley Fleming, MA, HTR, in their article “Cherry Blossoms, Symbolism and HT,” originally published in The American Horticultural Therapy Association News Magazine, volume 40, number 2.

eatbreathegarden_springflowers_cherrytreesIn working with clients, share photos of cherry blossoms and Hanami celebrations depicted in Asian art, day and night time celebrations of Hanami in Japan, and even the blooming Yoshino cherry trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. (The 3,000-plus Washington trees were a gift from Japan to the United States, as a goodwill gesture, in the 1912, and celebrated during the Cherry Blossom Festival each spring. Read more about it here. You can even watch the cherry trees in bloom with the “Cherry Blossom Cam” in Washington here.) Pass around cherry branches and examine the buds and blossoms. Reminisce about favorite seasonal family gatherings and celebrations. Create individual or group floral arrangements using cherry branches and other spring flowers.

Client-created floral arrangements with cherry blossoms, daffodils, and tulips

What Florists Know [And What We Wished We Knew] About Spring Flowering Bulbs

By Lesley Fleming, HTR and Sarah Bayat

Bursting with new life, spring flowering bulbs herald in the season of renewal. Recognizing beauty in each stage of growth, florists maximize the versatility of bulbs and use them creatively in a variety of ways.

Bare bulbs are architectural. Stacked as a mass or as a singular specimen, a bulb’s color, shape, and roots intrigue, particularly when presented in glass vessels. Bulbs can be purchased in soil or soil-less. Rinsing off the soil will offer the cleanest presentation and will not hinder sprouting. (Read more about bulbs here).

For dramatic style, place bulbs at the base of a flower arrangement. Juxtaposing blossom with bulb, soft with hard, adds depth and layers of dimension.

Emerging daffodil flower

The crack of the bulb, when the greenery starts to emerge, is one of nature’s wonders. Whether it is a forced bloom or seasonal cycle, observing the bulb’s daily growth is life affirming and beautiful. (Read more about forcing bulbs indoors and forcing paperwhite bulbs.)


Blossoms from spring flowering bulbs — alliums, tulips, daffodils, muscari — are beautiful as cut flowers meticulously arranged or placed simply in a vase.

Fragrant hyacinths

The fragrance of lily of the valley, freesia, or hyacinths provide immediate pleasure and memories of springtimes past.

The many lives of bulbs…once they’ve finished their show in vases, bulbs can be planted in the ground for another chance at nature’s cycle, in growing zones where hardy. The carbon footprint of a bulb’s journey can be positive and renewable. Note: Bulbs used at the base of an arrangement are less likely to be viable.

Client-made floral arrangement using freesia and California iris (alternative for Dutch iris).

For your own spring awakening, try bulbs in any of these renditions. Or consider inspiration from international bulb showcases: Dallas Arboretum in Texas, Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa,  Floralia Brussels at Chateau de Grand-Bigard in Belgium, or the Netherlands’ Keukenhof.

Bulbs planted in fall produce spring flowers. Bulbs planted in spring bring summer blossoms.

Authors Lesley Fleming and Sarah Bayat combine their talents for this series. Lesley is a registered horticultural therapist who uses cut flowers for therapeutic activities. Sarah is creative director of Floris Flowers Co.

This is the third in a series of four articles sharing tips on spring bulbs. The fourth article will offer tips for floral arrangements.

The Transformative Experience of Basil Seed

At a time when gardeners are sowing seeds in preparation for the spring garden, let’s talk about seeds…basil seed in particular.

About a year ago, friend and fellow practitioner Charles Plummer of Youth with Faces told me about how basil seed can change before your very eyes, if you just add water. He had learned this from Rebecca Haller, HTM, during one of the Horticultural Therapy Institute’s courses.

Somewhat skeptical, I said, “Well, what happens?”

He encouraged, “Just give it a try and see what happens.”

It took me a couple more months – when I was preparing to lead a seed sowing session with one of my groups – before I was in the same room as basil seed, an eye dropper, and some water. So in taking Charles’ advice, I gave it a try.

And WOW!

Did you know that basil seed can change right before your eyes in just a few seconds?

In a world of instant gratification, clients can sometimes get impatient with the “slow growing” nature of plants in the garden. This is a great opportunity for a meaningful lesson, or actually a series of lessons, on the phrase “Good things come to those who wait.” The act of nurturing a plant – from seed to seedling to full grown plants that can be harvested for eating or collecting seed – can help the gardener experience the cyclical nature of life in real time. Some things just don’t happen overnight…patience is a virtue.

However, at other times, an activity with instantly gratifying results can be equally as powerful and transformative. Here, watching a basil seed from start to finish can help shift a person’s self-focused attention outside of themselves to something that is so tiny. In a sense, it can be incredibly grounding for one’s perspective to watch a seed that’s a centimeter in size transform itself. (Read more on the transformative nature of awe and the healing power of awe, supported by recently published research in the journal Emotion.)

So what exactly does the basil seed do when you add water? As Charles would say, just give it a try yourself. I’ll give you a sneak peek below.

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenTo start, gather together the following materials: basil seed (I used the Genovese type because it was handy, though I’m sure pretty much any basil seed would work), cup of water, eye dropper, and your hands.

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenOpen your hand out flat so that the palm of your hand is facing up toward the sky. Gently tap some basil seed out of the seed packet into the palm of your hand. Take note of what the basil looks and feels like at this time. The seed is tiny in size and black in color – it kinda looks like the poppy seeds that get stuck in your teeth after eating a poppy seed bagel. Use a finger from your other hand to roll the dry seed around in your hand. Focus your attention on the sensation of the seed rolling around in your hand.

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenNext, get some water in your eye dropper and add a few drops of water over the top of the seed. Make sure the seed has contact with the water.

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenNotice how the added water feels to your skin – cool and wet. And watch.

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenFocus all of your attention on the seed. Be patient and watch. It doesn’t happen instantly. And, don’t worry, the seeds aren’t jumping beans, so they won’t start popping up into your face. They also don’t grow spikes or turn into orange and blue polka dots.

Just watch…

And watch…

And watch until…

There! Do you see it?!?

What happened? The basil started turning a different color. What color? It’s kind of a gray color, right?

Keep watching…

BasilSeedTransformation_eatbreathegardenAfter a few seconds – at least 30 seconds, probably more – the basil seed will soak up most, if not all, of the water. The seed will have changed from tiny, black seeds to slightly larger, puffier, whitish gray seeds. If you look very closely, you can actually see the layer of seed mucilage over the seed coat.

So what is seed mucilage? It is a thin gelatinous layer that forms over seeds when exposed to moisture. Basil seeds form noticeable amounts of mucilage. You can even do this same experiment with chia seeds and notice the copious amounts of gel that form. Weird. (Read more about mucilage and its purpose here.)

After I first did this activity, I felt exhilarated and inspired to learn more about why these seeds do this – and every time I have done this activity since then, I’ve felt the same way. There is always a point – typically right when the water is added to the seeds – at which I think to myself, “Will the seeds change?” And then it happens.

Aren’t plants amazing?

Scintillating Tidbits About Orchids

By Lesley Fleming, HTR, and Jeanne Willis, with Susan Morgan
Photos by L. Fleming

When a man falls in love with orchids, he’ll do anything to possess the one he wants. It’s like chasing a green-eyed woman or taking cocaine…it’s sort of madness…

Norman Mac Donald, The Orchid Hunter, 1939

Orchids attract passion and mystery. What is it that stirs the hysteria for these intriguing plants? Check out this interesting list of orchid facts.

Paphiopedilum spicerianum eatbreathegarden
Paphiopedilum spicerianum

There are more than 25,000 documented species of orchids, making the Orchidaceae family one of the largest families of flowering plants (Kramer, 2013). (Learn how to pronounce Orchidaceae here.)

The word orchis is derived from the Greek word meaning “testicle,” referring to the shape of bulbous roots found in some orchid genera (Flowerweb).

The term orchid, as a shortened version of Orchidaceae, was not introduced until 1845 (Flowerweb).

Many scientists suspect that hybridized orchids would not occur in nature and that there are more species yet undiscovered, especially in tropical areas (Kramer, 2013).

The smallest orchid is believed to be Platystele jungermannioides at 2mm in size (Flowerweb). (Read more about the world’s smallest orchid here.)

Some orchid species can survive up to 100 years (Flowerweb).

Brassocattleya Tangerine Jewel x Bc. Richard Mueller eatbreathegarden
Brassocattleya Tangerine Jewel x Bc. Richard Mueller

Botanists studied “one thousand wild orchids for fifteen years and during that time only twenty-three were pollinated.” Some orchid seedpods are filled with millions of tiny dust-sized seeds (Orlean, 1998).

The world’s first orchid book Orchid Guide for Kuei-men and Chang-chou, written by Chao Shih-ken, was published in 1228 in China (Orlean, 1998).

During the Ming dynasty, orchids were used to treat a range of health issues, including diarrhea, venereal diseases, neuralgia, and sick elephants (Orlean, 1998).

A record setting two-ton Grammatophyllum speciosum orchid was displayed at the first world’s fair – the 1850-1 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, England (Orlean, 1998). (Read more about this large orchid here.)

Brassocattleya Maikai 'Mayumi' eatbreathegarden
Brassocattleya Maikai ‘Mayumi’

Orchids have symmetry similar to a human face. Scientists think that the orchid’s symmetry is one of the reasons for human fondness for this plant (Kramer, 2013). (Read more about the bilateral symmetry of orchid flowers here.)

Rhyncholaeliocattleya Donna Kimura 'Paradise Tami' eatbreathegarden
Rhyncholaeliocattleya Donna Kimura ‘Paradise Tami’

Victorian women were forbidden from owning orchids because the flower shapes were considered to be sexually suggestive (Orlean, 1998).

Suffragettes destroyed several orchid specimens at Kew Gardens in London, England, in 1912(3) (Orlean, 1998). (Read more about the Kew Orchid House attack here.)

Vanilla, the popular flavor and fragrance is extracted from the pod of Vanilla planifolia, a species of orchid (Flowerweb). (Read more about the Vanilla orchid here.)

The Florida connection to orchids began in 1874, when it is reported that avid gardener Jane Kenniburgh moved from Carickfergus, Ireland, to Tallahassee, Florida, with her Phaius grandifolius orchid, often referred to as nun’s lily. This orchid was recognized as the first greenhouse-cultivated orchid in Florida (Orlean, 1998).

Some orchids are considered to resemble creatures from the animal kingdom, like the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera). It lures the males of a certain species of bee because of its appearance and enticing smell (Dearringer). (Read more about the fascinating bee orchid here or watch a video about it here.)

The orchid Dendrophylax lindenii, also known as the ghost orchid, grows wild in Florida and is considered to be one of the most sought after specimens (Orlean, 1998). (Read more about the ghost orchid here.)

Orchids in this article were photographed at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.


Dearringer, M. (no date). Seven Little Known Orchid Facts. Retrieved Dec. 4, 2015 from

Flowerweb (no date). 15 Amazing Facts About Orchids. Retrieved Dec. 4, 2015 from

Kramer, M. (2013). 5 Surprising Facts About Orchids. Retrieved Dec. 4, 2015 from

Orlean, S. (1998). The Orchid Thief. New York: Random House.

Horticulture and Health According to Three Wise Men

By Lesley Fleming, HTR

Hippocrates, Roger Ulrich, and E.O. Wilson…their perspectives on how nature impacts human health brought about seismic changes in medicine, research, healthcare facility design and much more.

Hippocrates, 460BC-370 BC, who is considered to be the father of medicine, introduced Vis Medicatrix Naturae — the concept of the healing power of nature. It became a guiding principle across disciplines and is still considered today to be powerful and relevant, linking nature (including horticulture) to human health.

Roger Ulrich, 1984, conducted research which revealed that views of nature influence faster health recovery in hospital patients. Frequently cited for this research and his work on evidence-based healthcare design, Ulrich has had global influence on nature-health connections.

E.O. Wilson, 1986, popularized the hypothesis that humans have an instinctual need to connect with nature. This concept — and Wilson’s book of the same name — Biophilia has come to signify the need to integrate nature into our lives…using it to find balance and understanding of the inter-relatedness of all living things.

What Florists Know [And What We Wish We Knew] About Holiday Plants

By Lesley Fleming, HTR, and Sarah Bayat

Photos by Susan Morgan

Celebrate the festive season with beloved holiday plants. To make the most of these colorful, live plants in the dark days of winter, consider the following tips.


Show-stopping sizes (miniature to large), double blooms, and a color spectrum from pure white or deep red to salmon orange and even stripes, amaryllis feels like a holiday miracle. Watch it grow daily until the blossom opens before your very eyes. Note that the larger the bulb, the larger the flower. Flowering occurs four to eight weeks after planting with the succession of bud openings lasting two weeks. Buds prefer several hours of direct sunlight and temperatures of 75-80 degrees F. Watering is not necessary once bud has cracked. Blossoms can be prolonged by moving flowers out of direct sunlight. Bulb will re-bloom in container or garden bed in milder climates.

Christmas cactusChristmas Cactus

Colorful and readily available in the holiday season, Christmas cactus are regarded as easy to maintain houseplants. In preparation for the holidays, the grower will have ensured 12 hours of darkness required for blooming at just the right time. The plant prefers to be in bright indirect light, root-bound in containers and soil drying between watering. Cuttings taken from Christmas cactus can be easily propagated.

Christmas treesChristmas Trees

Once home, place the fresh cut trunk in an appropriately sized reservoir-type stand that holds water. To prevent drying, place tree away from heat sources, keep tree watered, lower temperatures at night, and use low heat tree lights. Consider recycling the tree. Check out tips on how to care for a live tree with roots here.


Ruffled flowers in white, pink, and red, heart shaped leaves, and blossoms of every size make this plant charming. Avoid direct sunlight, provide good drainage watering from the roots up, and use water soluble fertilizer every two months. For re-blooming, let leaves die back, stop watering, place plant in cool, dark place, and let sit for several months. Then soak soil and resume regular care.


Now available in double blooms and many colors-pink, red, burgundy, yellow, white and even marbled colors, poinsettias are popular because they thrive for long periods of time with minimal care. They prefer temperatures of 70-80 and direct sunlight, but no drafts or sitting water. Poinsettias are not poisonous but the milky sap may irritate skin. Read about growing poinsettias outdoors here.

Authors Lesley Fleming and Sarah Bayat combine their talents for this series. Lesley is a registered horticultural therapist who uses holiday plants for therapeutic activities. Sarah is creative director of Floris Flowers Co.

This is the second in a series of four articles sharing tips on seasonal plants. The third article will offer tips for spring bulbs.

Unique Trees That Have Faced Adversity

Just like people, plants can tell some interesting stories. Check out the tales of these trees.

Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis). A prehistoric tree that grew 90 million years ago, the Wollemi pine was thought to be extinct until a stand of the trees was found about 20 years ago growing in a national park just north of Sydney, Australia. The photo above is of a Wollemi pine taken at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, England, about ten years ago. Read more about the Wollemi pine here.

Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora). A nearly 400-year-old Japanese bonsai survived the Hiroshima blast and is now located at United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. Read more about this bonsai here and here.

Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). The 1988 fires burned over one million acres in Yellowstone National Park. Though it burned through acres of vegetation, the fire actually heated up the resin within the pine cones of the lodgepole pine, releasing the seeds which otherwise would have been held captive inside the cones for many years. Many seedlings germinated by the following year. Read more about the lodgepole pine here.

General Sherman giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The world’s largest tree by volume is located in the Sequoia National Park in California. Check out the stats on the General Sherman tree here.

[Note: This article was originally published as part of a larger article “Warrior Plants” in the AHTA News Magazine for the American Horticultural Therapy Association.]

Warrior Plants

[Note: This article was originally published in the AHTA News Magazine for the American Horticultural Therapy Association. In honor of the women and men who have served and currently serve our country, and Veterans Day, I am posting it here.]

I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so…heroic.

– George Carlin, in Brain Droppings, p. 100

Resilient, strong, tough, hardy, adaptable, vigorous – these are all adjectives used to describe someone who is a warrior…as well as to describe plants as botanical warriors in their own right. Some plants grow fully submerged in water or germinate from a minuscule seed, while others grow perched atop the tree canopy of a tropical rain forest or have thick leaves that help them retain moisture in the most arid growing conditions. Plant characteristics, such as their growth habits and forms, growing requirements, methods of reproduction, and other biological functions, play a major factor in determining how they thrive or fail in an environment.

Due to their adaptations over time and resilience enduring nature’s elements, plants are often used as symbols of strength, hope, and inspiration. For example, trees are often referred to as symbolic representations of strength and power with their sturdy woody stems, extensive root systems that hold them upright and steadfast, lengthy life spans, ability to provide shelter and food, and other qualities.

When horticultural therapy clients learn about how plants endure tough growing conditions to flourish, these observations can help clients find perspective about situations they are dealing with or give them something to view as a symbol of inspiration. Consider incorporating these plants with strong characteristics or names or that have historical use by mighty people into an inspirational lesson on building personal strength and overcoming obstacles.

GinkgoGinkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

A living fossil with unique fan-shaped leaves, ginkgo is a long lived tree with prehistoric ties. Its length of time on Earth and long life span has made it a symbol of resilience and endurance. In fact, several trees, including at least four ginkgos, survived the atomic blast in Hiroshima, Japan, and are still growing today. Note: Has toxicity if eaten in large quantities. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8.

GladiolusGladiolus (Gladiolus)

In the language of flowers, gladiolus symbolizes strength of character, and legend even has it that gladiolus was the representative flower of the Roman gladiators. With its sword shaped leaves and colorful flower spikes, gladiolus’ name is derived from the Latin word for “sword.” Other plants known to symbolize strength include fennel, thyme, garlic, oak, and bamboo. Note: Has toxicity. Commonly used as a cut flower; hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11.

Tillandsia xerographica air plantAir Plant (Tillandsia xerographica and others)

Epiphytes, or air plants, are resilient plants that grow on something else, such as on a tree or a rocky ledge, yet are not parasitic. Unlike their terrestrial counterparts, they have special adaptations on their leaves and roots that help obtain their water and nutrients from the air, rainfall, leaf litter, and other nearby sources. Epiphytes include several orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and other air plants, such as Tillandsia xerographica. Spanish moss (shown in feature image), which is often seen growing in live oaks in the deep South, is not an actual moss but, rather, is a Tillandsia. Some grown as houseplants; Spanish moss (T. usneoides) is hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11.

ZZ plantZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamifolia)

The phrase “ZZ plants are E-Z” is true and makes ZZ plant a candidate for the top of any list of low maintenance houseplants. Though they are slow and steady growers, this tough houseplant has a high tolerance level for neglect. It does well with infrequent watering and in low light conditions when a light stand or sunny window is not available. Note: this plant has toxicity. Grown as a houseplant.

Osage orange Bois d'arcOsage Orange (Maclura pomifera)

Ethnobotanical researchers have described how Native Americans historically used the dense, tough wood of the Osage orange, otherwise called bois d’arc, to fashion bows. (Watch out for the female trees that wield softball-sized green fruit that plummet to the earth.) Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) and various species of serviceberry (Amelanchier), juniper (Juniperus), and cedar (Thuja) were also used for making bows, arrows, or totem poles by various Native American tribes. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.

LotusLotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

The lotus is an aquatic plant that grows in the muddy margins of ponds and marshes. Its flower is considered sacred in Buddhism and Hinduism and is commonly used in imagery of rebirth and enlightenment in Asian art. Leaves and flowers grow from the rhizomes buried underwater in the mud and rise up tall above the water surface. In addition, its leaves are hydrophobic, meaning that water droplets bead up on leaves like drops of mercury and fall off easily. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 10.

Aspidistra Cast Iron PlantCast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)

As its name suggests, cast iron plant is the houseplant that is tough as nails – cast iron nails, at that – as its name suggests. It thrives in low light and with minimal watering. Commonly grown as a houseplant; also hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 11.


Over the course of three and a half billion years of environmental fluctuations and catastrophes, organisms of all types have developed tremendous powers of regeneration. Some species, typically referred to by humans as weeds, seem especially adept at not merely surviving severe disturbance, but of actually flourishing in the face of it.

– Peter Del Tredici, Hibaku Trees of Hiroshima



Del Tredici, P. Hibaku Trees of Hiroshima. Retrieved on 29 October 2013 from

Laufer, G.A. (1993). Tussie-Mussies: The Language of Flowers. Workman Publishing Company, Inc.: Hong Kong.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. (2013). What are epiphytes? Retrieved from

Missouri Botanical Garden. (2013). Biology of Plants: Plant Adaptations. Retrieved from

University of Michigan – Dearborn. (2013). Native American Ethnobotany Database. Retrieved from