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SCIENCE REPORT - Christmas Holiday Plants

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This is the VOA Special English Science Report.

Christmas has many traditions. Singing songs. Cooking foods. Giving gifts. Some special trees and plants also are part of the Christmas tradition.

One of the most popular is the evergreen tree. It is usually a pine or a fir. It remains green during the cold, dark months of winter in the northern part of the world. Many people buy an evergreen tree for Christmas. They put it in their house and hang small lights and colorful objects on its branches. Some people buy living trees and plant them after the Christmas holiday. Others cut down a tree or buy a cut tree.

Another popular evergreen plant is mistletoe. It has small white berries and leaves that feel like leather. The traditional Christmas mistletoe is native to Europe. Mistletoe is a parasite plant. It grows by connecting itself to a tree and stealing the tree's food and water. It can be found on apple trees, lindens, maples and poplars.

Priests of the Druid religion of ancient Britain and France believed mistletoe had magical powers. Today, some people hang mistletoe in a doorway at Christmas time. If you meet someone under the mistletoe, tradition gives you permission to kiss that person.

One of the most popular plants at Christmas is the poinsettia. These plants are valued for their colorful bracts, which look like leaves. Most poinsettias are bright red. But they also can be white or pink. Poinsettias are native to Mexico. They are named after America's first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett. He liked the plant and sent some back to the United States. Many people believe that poinsettias are poisonous. But researchers say this is not true. They say the milky liquid in the plant's stem can cause a person's skin to become red. If children or animals eat the leaves they may become sick, but they will not die.

Two thick, sticky substances from trees have been part of Christmas from the beginning. They are frankincense and myrrh. Both have powerful, pleasant smells. Tradition says three wise men carried them as gifts to the Christ child in Bethlehem.

Finally, there are several herbs used in Christmas foods, drinks and decorations. One is sage. Its leaves are cooked with turkey or goose. And sweet-smelling rosemary plants are hung on doors or cut to look like little Christmas trees.

This VOA Special English Science Report was written by Christine Johnson.

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