If you are looking to give someone a holiday plant, and you would like it to be different, don't worry. There are plenty of alternatives to the tried and true poinsettia.
Norfolk Island Pine are fun because they look like a traditional pine with layers of branches. These are houseplants and will not live outside during the winter. Norfolk Island Pines are very unforgiving if they dry out too much. They will show their displeasure with a multitude of brown needles. These houseplants are best kept indoors on the cool side at 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Amaryllis are magnificent tropical looking bulbs that can easily be kept year after year. The bigger the bulb the more flowers produced. It usually takes four to six weeks for flowers to form after planting the bulb. Amaryllis need high light and a periodic turn of the pot to keep them from flopping to one side.
Cyclamens are a popular winter flowering plant known for their attractive foliage as well as flowers. The flowers, which can last two to three months, hover above the foliage like butterflies of pink, red or white. The leaves are dark green with silver markings. To maximize cyclamen's flowering period, give the plant bright light such as an east window and cool conditions with 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.
Cyclamens also appreciate high humidity. Fill a shallow pan with pebbles and water. Set the cyclamen on an inverted dish just above the water line. Cyclamens need evenly moist soil. Keep water off the crown of the plant. If the leaves turn yellow or the buds fail to open, the problem could be hot dry atmosphere, lack of water or insufficient light.
Most of the plants sold as Christmas cactus are actually Thanksgiving cactus. High temperatures or excessive drying will cause the flowers to wilt and drop. Christmas cactus are one of the easiest holiday plants to rebloom next year, but plan on them as Thanksgiving guests.
Anne Lenox Barlow is the horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450; Essex County, 962-4810; and Franklin County, 483-7403. E-mail your questions to askMG@cornell.edu.