By Lynn Barber

Poinsettia is one of the traditional holiday plant selections. Other holiday favorites include Amaryllis, Christmas cactus and Gardenia. There are several other wonderful plants for the holidays, such as Paperwhites, African violet and Rosemary topiary.

Paperwhite narcissus can be purchased already potted in a nice gift box at many garden centers and nurseries. Place the container in a cool and dark room until you see shoot growth. You can then relocate the plant to an area with bright light. This plant produces small flowers that are very scented. Paperwhites bloom for several weeks, and it is best to move them away from direct sunlight to prolong the blooming cycle. You can plant these bulbs outdoors in USDA zones 8 to 11.

African violet is a great houseplant and can be placed on your lanai or front porch when temperatures range from 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. This plant prefers indirect light. If the leaves are a yellow-green and there is minimal flowering, improper lighting is likely the cause. You can purchase potting soil and fertilizer that is made specifically for African violets. Flower color, leaf style and texture are available in many varieties. You can water this plant from the top or through the bottom using room temperature water.

Rosemary topiary is available at many garden centers and nurseries during the holidays. If you have Rosemary at home, you can trim your plant into the shape of a holiday tree, too. This makes a great smelling gift for gardeners, cooks and apartment dwelling plant lovers. This plant produces small, light blue flowers in the winter and spring. It can reach a height and spread of up to 5 ft. When planted in your landscape bed, it needs full sun and well-drained soil.

Plants make a great gift for the holidays. I hope you give and receive some this year. For more information about these holiday gems, see the following publications from which this article was adapted and excerpted: Some Holiday Plants to Give and Receive, by Ralph E. Mitchell, at http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/newsarticles/HolidayPlants.pdf, Fragrant Paperwhites, by Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont, at http://perrysperennials.info/articles/paperwhites.html, and Plants for the Holiday, at http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/families_and_consumers/plants_for_the_holidays.shtml.

For more information about the nine principles of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program or for assistance with gardening-related questions, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County at 744-5519 or visit hillsborough.ifas.ufl.edu.