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Know your botanical trivia when decorating

Several traditional plants contribute to the festive holiday scene of the home or office.

As a conversation piece for the holiday get-togethers, here is a short quiz to test your knowledge of trivia associated with holiday plants.

1.) Which traditional holiday plant placed in homes is actually a parasite?

2.) Which holiday plant actually requires two separate male and female plants to produce the festive decorations associated with Christmas?

3.) Which holiday plant belongs to the group of plants that evolved before insects were present for pollination and most of our food and fiber plants existed?

4.) Which holiday plant needs a minimum darkness period each night to create the colorful display we enjoy for the holidays?

Answers

1.) The parasitic plant that is included in holiday songs and tales is none other than mistletoe. Parasitic plants root into other plants, rather than the soil, and take essential elements from that host plant. In warmer areas of the country, mistletoe can actually be a problem for the health of those hosts, which often are trees.

2.) As the song goes, we haul out the holly for Christmas. To get the decorative berries, there must be a female plant, which has only female flowers, growing near the plant with only male flowers for pollination to occur.

Holly is known as a dioecious plant. Keep this in mind if trying to grow them in the landscape and fruit is desired.

3.) Conifers, which belong to the group known as gymnosperms, evolved before the true flowering plants, which are called angiosperms. So species used as Christmas trees, which includes pine, fir, or spruce, are classified within the group of plants that started back in the time period prior to the age of dinosaurs.

4.) Last but not least, poinsettias need a minimum uninterrupted period of darkness each night to trigger the processes leading to flowering.

Poinsettias are known as short-day plants, which means they respond to longer nights to initiate flowering. The colorful red, white or pink we enjoy are actually modified leaves called bracts. Look inside for the yellow beadlike flowers.

Enjoy a little botanical trivia with your holidays!

• Bruce Spangenberg is Horticulture Department chairman at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake.

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