Guide to Holiday Gift Plants

The Christmas season is a celebration of life, of birth, and of goodwill toward all. As we gather around intricately trimmed trees and decadently appointed tables, we all look forward to the ritual of giving. On those occasions, what could be a more appropriate gift than a houseplant that will fill the recipient’s home with life and beauty long after the holidays have ended?

Traditional Gift Plants

From festive colors to long-lasting blooms, we simply can’t go wrong with these holiday standbys.

Poinsettias

No list of holiday gift plants could ignore the red-and-green foliage of the classic poinsettia! Originally from Mexico, these plants got their start in Christmas lore from an old Mexican myth about a poor girl who offered a collection of weeds to the church altar on Christmas morning. The love in her heart was so pure, the weeds took on a vibrant red color and the plants began to grow everywhere in the region when Christmas drew near!

Poinsettia petals, which are actually special leaves called flower bracts, come in over a hundred shades and patterns. The plants should be bought when the plant still shows tight buds and blooms with yellow centers – dark centers mean the blooms are about to fade. Poinsettias should be stored in bright, indirect sunlight and their soil should dry between waterings.

Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus, otherwise known as Schlumbergera truncata or zygocactus, is a tropical succulent that has gained massive popularity through the North American holiday season. The Brazilian plants bloom bright, showy flowers through the wintertime and add a fresh dose of color to your recipient’s dining room, bedroom, or living room.

Like the poinsettia, Christmas cactus need bright indirect light and relatively infrequent waterings, and with the right care, they can live for decades – some have been reported to be kept in the family for over 100 years!

Paperwhites & Amaryllis Bulbs

These tropical bulbs can be forced to bloom indoors over the holidays, yielding truly spectacular blooms with sturdy stems. Amaryllis trumpets out into vibrant pink or red flowers, while paperwhites produce a group of stunning daffodil-like blooms in delicate shades of off-white. Both need bright, indirect light and regular watering to stay healthy. 

Mistletoe

These plants have had a reputation for encouraging folks to kiss since ancient times (as far back as 29 BC)! A strange and beautiful plant, mistletoe offers whimsical, rounded leaves and translucent white berries. It is most appropriate as a cut flower at Christmas, rather than as a plant for the garden. In fact, mistletoe is an invasive, parasitic species that shouldn’t be migrated to the yard. They’re best kept contained indoors in a pretty vase or bowl until they’re ready to be discarded.

Non-Traditional Gift Plants

While the traditional holiday plants are still universally beloved, there are also a number of giftable non-traditional plants to choose from that are wildly popular with the younger crowd. For the avid Instagrammers on your list, these plants are sure to make their faces light up.

Succulents

Succulents come in so many different shapes, sizes, and colors, it’s easy to find one that matches your loved one’s taste and space. They’re also low-maintenance, which is perfect for a young person with a busy schedule. All they need is a spot with bright sunlight and the occasional bit of water. If repotting, be careful not to disturb the original soil more than necessary and fill out the rest of the pot with easy-draining cactus soil.

Lemon Cypress

Lemon cypress has the aroma of lemons but the appearance of a miniature Christmas tree, making them a great choice for studio apartments or dorm rooms with insufficient space for a full tree! Lemon cypress should be kept by a window for at least 6 hours of sunshine but they can be watered infrequently, whenever the top few inches of soil dries.

Tillandsias

Also known as “air plants”, tillandsias are a whimsical, pot-free plant that can be kept in virtually any vessel. For a fun holiday presentation, find a clear holiday ornament with a large cutout and create a terrarium with some moss, pebbles and a tillandsia to finish. To maintain, tillandsias need to be spritzed regularly with water and kept in a bright spot out of direct sunlight.

Bonsai Trees

Bonsai trees have long been famous for being small-scale natural replicas of full-size trees. Bonsai is a method of growing a tree to retain its small scale and sculptural quality, so there are many varieties of trees available with just as many variations in care instructions. In general, bonsais tend to be more delicate than other houseplants, with many species requiring daily watering. It’s recommended to offer them at least 5 hours of indirect light daily.

Pilea

These quirky plants are a great fit for someone who walks to the beat of their own drum. Pilea are fun-looking houseplants with coin-shaped leaves, hence their nickname, Chinese Money Plants. They are a little finicky and are good gifts for seasoned plant lovers. Pilea are succulents who need to dry out completely before being watered. When it’s time to give them a drink, they prefer bottom watering – where the plant pot is placed directly into a saucer of water to soak through the drainage holes. Pilea prefer a spot with lots of bright, indirect sunlight and should be rotated frequently to keep their leaves looking even on all sides and to prevent leaning.

Lucky Bamboo

Lucky Bamboo is sustainable, fast-growing, and really neat to look at – making it a home-run houseplant to gift environmentally-conscious friends and family members. Lucky Bamboo stalks, which are actually dracaena and not true bamboo, are often sold in intriguing shapes, like hearts or spirals. They can survive in a simple vase filled with pebbles and distilled water, making this plant as low-maintenance as it is visually striking.

Houseplants make great gifts for anyone, from dinner party hostesses to teens who seem to have it all. Give a plant, and you’ll be bringing joy into your loved one’s home!