Posts Tagged ‘red’

Christmas Star – Euphorbia pulcherrima

Christmas Star
Christmas Star

Red leafed flower with poignant history
Reminds of life’s passion at Christmas time
Symbolic of seasonal light, glory


By Stephanie Eve Kane Arado


This plant, indigenous to Mexico is probably the most recognized flower associated with the Christmas season. It was held in such high esteem by Montezuma, the emperor of the ancient Aztecs that he had the plants potted and brought into the mountains where he reigned. The plant did not do well there (it does not tolerate below 50 degrees Fahrenheit), so had to be brought in frequently!

The Poinsettia has been referred to as the Christmas Star because of the resemblance of the bracts that surround the true flowers to stars. The bracts (or leaves) are pointed and circle the center yellow flowers in a radiant pattern. Among the Aztec the flower represented purity.


In Mexico there is a sweet story of how the Poinsettia came to be. According to the legend a young girl was on her way to celebrate the Christ child’s birth, but she was too poor to afford a gift. So she picked a bunch of scraggly green plants to present to him. She placed these before the alter and they blossomed with bright crimson star shaped flowers. This was a reminder that the most humble gift, given in love is perfection.


Among the Mayan people (at one time) these flowers were considered sacred. The Aztecs used the red bracts to produce a red dye. As a folk medicine it was used to treat skin issues, warts, and toothaches.


There is one other myth that needs dispelled. This plant is not a toxic killer…to people or pets!

In 1919 an urban legend was born after a child died after ingestion of the plant. The cause of death was never proven, but it never happened again! The latex of the plant can cause issues for those sensitive to it causing irritation to the skin, eyes and mucous membranes. If sufficient quantity is consumed it can cause nausea and vomiting, but NOT death.

Earth Star – Cryptanthus bivittatus cultiovar ‘Ruby’

Earth Star
Earth Star

This tender, perennial, terrestrial bromeliad is from the dry forests of eastern Brazil. The first species of this genus was discovered in 1831. It is the most popular of its kind in home terrarium gardening. Unfortunately this plant appears to be extinct in its native Brazil, it has not been found in the wild there for awhile now.

Like many bromeliads it only produces flowers once in its life, and then dies. The flowers are small, white, and hardly noticeable appearing near the center of the rosette. It tends to reproduce through the production of pups (offsets) in the leaf axils,  near the plants base. When separated from the mother plant they root easily in moist soil.

No reference to any use has been found.

Amur Honeysuckle – Lonicera maackii

Amur Honeysuckle
Amur Honeysuckle

This honeysuckle is imported from the Amur River (the worlds eighth largest river) region of southeast Russia, hence the common name. This river forms the border between the Russian Far East and Manchuria in China. L. maackii is native to the area surrounding this river.

Amur Honeysuckle was first introduced To North America around 1855. It was used as an ornamental and for wildlife food and cover. It is invasive, having escaped cultivation and is banned or prohibited in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

At this time no reference can be found for this plants use as human food or medicine!

Impatiens – Impatiens walleriana

Impatiens - Bizzy Lizzy
Impatiens – Bizzy Lizzy

Bizzy Lizzy as they are called in Great Britain are native to Africa. Impatiens first arrived in England in 1896, brought by Dr John Kirk (physician/naturalist). The plants love shade, but will survive more light if given sufficient water all through the season.

The common name of Impatiens is derived from the action of the seed pods. Should they be touched, or when they are fully ripe, they explode, sending the seeds for greater distances away from the plant. This is a fun game that children love; to touch and to trycatching the seeds!

The root is used to produce salep a very nutritive and soothing food for children and convalescents. One part root to 50 parts of water to make the jelly.

In ancient China, Impatiens petals were mashed with rose, orchid petals, and alum. This was then used as nail polish: after leaving the mixture on the nails for some hours, it would color them a pink to reddish hue

Firethorn – Pyracantha coccinea

‘Pyracantha fire-thorn, in yellow, orange, red,
are quite a treat along a street, it really must be said.
and of the views on avenues, while prunus- malus glow,
it really does illuminate, the wealth of autumn’s show…’
-Sid de Knees


Every fall neighborhoods come ablaze with Firethorn. The minitaure apple-like berries are usually red, to red-orange. But they can sometimes have a nice yellow berry. The berries last on the bushes for months, only to disappear when the birds have feasted!

The berries are a wonderful treat all winter for the birds…I wondered why? Well they are high in Vitamin C, and they are edible to humans also! Many people think that the berries are poisonous, but the seeds are what people need to use caution with. Like other seeds (apples for example) they have hydrogen cyanide in them. But to avoid any unpleasantness all one has to do is remove the seeds. Boiling the fruit, and straining the pulp is adequate.

The berries have been used in the past for jelly, jam, and for sauces. They are best harvested after a frost, to help sweeten them. Often they are added to other fruit…. added to sweet apples, or added to fruit with lower pectin.



Pyracantha Jelly
5 cups pyracantha berries
3 cups water
1/4 cup lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 pkg pectin

Place 5 cups washed pyracantha berries in a very large pan with 3 cups of water. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Strain through a cloth. Measure 2 cups berry juice, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 5 cups sugar into a very large pan. Over high heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Immediately stir in one pkg pectin, bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off foam and pour into sterilized glasses. Process the jars as you would any other jelly. Prepared berry juice may be refrigerated or frozen prior to making jelly.

Cardinal Flower – Lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal Flower is the only Red flowered Lobelia
Cardinal Flower

This is the only plant in the genus Lobelia that has red flowers. Cardinal flower is pollinated by the ruby-throated hummingbird. They are attracted to it in droves partially due to the red flowers!

Native Americans used this and other Lobelias to treat worms, stomach problems and syphilis. Its use for the latter by the Cherokee and Iroquois Indians prompted testing in England in the 1770s but the results were negative. Beautiful but deadly, this plant has been used, as a medicine but is also very poisonous.

The root was part of a Native American love potion and the powder of the entire plant may have been used as sort of a magic power to dispel storms and was used in ceremonies.

Nathaniel Hawthorne penned a fitting tribute to the cardinal flower. He said, “The world is made brighter and sunnier by flowers of such a hue … it arrays itself in this scarlet glory. It is a flower of thought and feeling, too; it seems to have its roots deep down in the hearts of those who gaze at it.” In the language of flowers Cardinal Flower means Distinction and Splendor

Wild Columbine – Aquilegia canadensis

The wild red Columbine is in the buttercup family
Wild Columbine

When I was first introduced to this plant, it was as a poison. Grandmother Dorothy told me that I could add an extract of the root to someone’s drink to give him or her the grip and diarrhea. I have since learned that all members of the Buttercup family are considered poisonous due to the presence of alkoloids.

 In traditional Herbalism columbine was considered sacred to Venus; carrying a flower of it was said arouse the affections of a loved one. Nicholas Culpeper recommended it to ease the pains of childbirth.

The Indians used wild columbine to relieve heart troubles and fevers, as a sedative, and as a wash for poison ivy. Braves rubbed the ground seeds into their hands as a love potion and perfume. Europeans treated sore throats with the leaves and kidney stones with the roots.

Despite the poisonous effects of most of the plant, the flowers have been used in salads. The Native Americans used it as a ‘condiment,’ reporting them to be sweet and safe if consumed in small quantities.