Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas southern style

As an immigrant nation of transplanted peoples, Australia is still rapidly changing and adapting the Northern Hemisphere's Christmas traditions to suit our climate, way of life and mix of peoples. In many homes, for example, the seafood barbecue has long ago replaced the roast turkey as the traditional Christmas feast. And out in our gardens several plants which bloom in the traditional colours of red and green, or at least at this time of year, have earned the name "Christmas Bush". We have two of them here at our place.

Pam bought a bunch of New South Wales Christmas bush today and popped it into a vase in the corner of our kitchen, as she likes to do every year. This is a native Australian plant with the name of Ceratopetalum gummiferum, but everyone just calls it Christmas bush. Though the vivid red highlights look like flowers, they're actually coloured bracts. Over the last month or two I've taken some shots of how they form.

Here's our Christmas bush in early October, flowering fairly heavily with its real, small white flowers. Though pleasant enough, they don't put on much of a show, nor do they smell especially nice. Our plant is in a pot and is kept small, but out in the bush these can form small trees 5-9 metres tall.

Here's how things progress by late October. The red bracts are starting to form in good numbers now, but it's not a rapid transformation.

By early November this year the bracts were showing their strongest colour. And that meant this year the timing was all-wrong! Way too early. They should be doing this now, not in early November, but that's Christmas bush for you, especially potted specimens, such as ours. And so that's why Pam bought a big bunch from the florist today. It's plentiful at this time of year, and florists stock a cultivar called 'Albery's Red' which has the strongest, most reliable red colouring.

Elsewhere on our property a New Zealand Christmas bush has joined the NSW Christmas bush in flowering too early, and so only the last stragglers are still in bloom now in mid December. This plant's botanical name is Metrosideros, and this is one of Pam's photos of it when it was in bloom several weeks ago. The Maori name for it is pohutakawa.

Here's another of Pam's photos of the NZ Christmas bush. Their flowers are spectacular starbursts of red needles topped with tiny glowing yellow tips, and the unopened buds are fuzzy frosted grey packets of pent-up energy.

There are lots of different sizes and shapes of Metrosideros around the Pacific. Some can become huge trees, others are shrubs, and most of them cope well with a position by the seaside (which is not where we are, by the way). Many different cultivars come from various Pacific Islands, to which it is also native. In New Zealand, it flowers around Christmas quite reliably, I hear. Here in Australia its ignominious job is to provide a green, flowering screen for our set of wheelie garbage and recycling bins when people look down our side passage from the street. A prisoner in a fairly big pot, it's about 1.5m high now, and at this size it does its screening job magnificently. I completely underestimated what a handsome thing it would become when I bought it.

Elsewhere in Australia, Western Australia has its own Christmas bush, a stunning golden-yellow-flowered tree, Nuytsia floribunda. And Victoria has the Victorian Christmas bush, Prostanthera lasianthos, usually with lots of pink flowers (although other colours exist, such as mauve, white or lilac), and always with highly fragrant foliage, as it belongs to the mint bush family. There are quite a few other plants with "Christmas" in their names in addition to these, but it's nice to have the NSW Christmas bush and its Kiwi mate here adding their own layers of red and green to the build-up to Christmas.

Our best wishes to you all, from Pam and Jamie.


patientgardener said...

Your opening comment about adapting traditions made me smile about 25 years ago I spent 3 months leading up to Xmas in Adelaide with my aunt and uncle. My overriding memory is my aunt's mother making a Christmas pudding the old fashioned way, the bizarre Christmas tree they had (literally a green broomhandle with bottle cleaners sticking out of it) and getting full Xmas dinner in my swimming costume!!!!

Jamie said...

Yes, there are lots of people like your aunt and uncle here in Oz, happily eating the turkey then the pud in the hundred degree heat. They wouldn't give up their traditions for anything, and God bless 'em. But I think more and more people here see all the traditional fare as being a bit of an ordeal in the heat, hence the change in the last decade especially to a more barbecue and salads kind of approach.

Sunita said...

Jamie, they're both so pretty I cant decide which one I like better.
We do a lot of the adapting traditions bit here in India. We have a small but sizeable Christian community mainly in Goa, Kerala and in the North-eastern states. So Christmas has been adopted into that long list of festivals that we Indians love to celebrate. And just about every community joins in. Everyone here loves a happy occasion which leads to celebrations.
Our version of it is a hodge-podge of the pre-European traditions (when christians in Kerala were converted by St. Thomas the Apostle ) and then the Portuguese who followed in the 15th century brought their own version of celebrations. The final topping has been provided by Hollywood films and Disney has a lot to do with how Christmas is celebrated nowadays in India :)
Total mish-mash of cultures and traditions ... so uniquely Indian!

Melinda said...

Merry Christmas - and thanks for all the wonderful posts :)