Houseplants for the Holidays

Are houseplants on your Black Friday Shopping list? They should be! Soon you will be looking for ways to make your home or office look more festive, or trying to think of an inexpensive gift idea for the last minute holiday party invitations and the crazy plant lady in your office you got stuck with in Secret Santa. Here are three houseplants I recommend you buy and suggestions on who to give them to. 

Love them or hate them nothing says Christmas like a Poinsettia, a red Poinsettia to be exact. The “flowers” that we are all familiar with are actually the upper leaves of the plant called bracts. The real flowers are green and yellow and located in the center of the colorful bracts. Poinsettias are native to southern Mexico and Central America. Poinsettias were introduced to the United States by former US Minister to Mexico, Dr. Joel R. Poinsett whom they are named after. What would this amateur botanist think of the mass produced and spray painted poinsettias sprinkled with glitter available today? If you are, like me, a hater of Poinsettias consider buying them from a small nursery or greenhouse that propagates their own. “We grow about 3,500 of them with prices ranging from $15-$85 and can deliver all over Chicago,” says Gina Soukal of Soukal Floral and Greenhouses on South Archer Avenue.  Today the family owned business would be better described as Soukal Floral and Greenhouse, but in the 1930′s the business consisted of nine greenhouses off of South Archer Avenue. All but one of the greenhouses were torn down to make way for homes and it is in this greenhouse (pictured above) where they propagate the Poinsettias they sell. For more information or to purchase a poinsettia, visit their website Or call (773) 767-7055.

Ideal gift for: Friends or co-workers who wear sweaters decorated with ribbons, stars or snowmen during the holiday season. Also a good gift for the locavores since you can point out how they were locally grown by an independent retailer in Chicago.  

Holiday Cactus

The plants we commonly refer to as Thanksgiving Cactus, Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus are not cacti at all. These succulent plants are all relatives in the genus Schlumbergera. In recent years, growers have stopped selling true Christmas and Easter Cactus plants. The plants you find in big box stores are mostly S. truncata (Thanksgiving Cactus) because it is easier and cheaper to mass produce one plant that is in bloom when customers are looking to buy something in flower for the holidays. You can buy these plants in big box stores all around Chicago where they are less expensive than at independent garden centers and nurseries.

Ideal gift for: Friends or co-workers who have loads of pictures of their kids or set up a Facebook profile for their child that is still in utero. Every gardener that grows a Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter Cactus is compelled to mention how it came from a cutting their grandmother gave to their mom years ago. These plants are perfect gifts for people who love their families so much they have to share them with the world.    

Amaryllis Bulbs

Technically, Hippeastrum but gardeners like myself still use the name Amaryllis.I call them Amaryllis because the name sounds nicer than Hippeastrum. Hippeastrum sounds like an affliction of the hip bones when you do not get enough calcium in your diet. These bulbous plants are purchased in kits at big box garden centers, floral departments of grocery stores and as single bulbs at independent garden centers around Chicago.  They make great gifts for people who may not have a green thumb because the bulbs just need to be planted in the potting soil and pot provided in the kits and within a few days to a couple of weeks they produce magnificent blooms. Some bulbs may produce two scapes (flower stalks) simultaneously and some may produce a second scape after the first has faded. Sprout Home Chicago and City Escape both carry loose bulbs of some nice cultivars and hybrids.

Ideal gift for: The boss and label-obsessed co-workers. Big, exotic-looking blooms make these plants look more expensive than they are, but kits start at $4.99

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