It's the festive season - has making use of winter plants to brighten up the monotone cold been troublesome for you? Winter flower arrangements do not have to be boring - conifer cones, acorns and holly are gorgeous houseplants, which could be found in cold European cities as well as the countryside of Hong Kong. Learn more about these winter-fruiting plants and get into the merrymaking spirit in time!
The dainty conifer cone falls into the phylum of Pinophyta. It might be a little more surprising that there are male and female cones, each of which plays a different role. When a male cone ripens, it remains its herbaceous state to produce pollens. The woody conifer cones we are more familiar with are ripe female cones, with seed covered inside.
In order to safeguard its seeds, the female cone has two sets of scales - the seed scales where the seeds are embedded; and the bract scales for protection. When a cone becomes ripe and dry, the scales will open wide and release the seed to the air. If it rains, moisture will make the scales fold shut until the sun shines again.
Featuring its protective cute cupule, acorn has widely depicted as squirrels' all-time-favourite. Interestingly, squirrels store acorns beyond their needs - and with their short memories, squirrels may leave them in places that are just too scattered! Eventually, the acorns left underneath the soil would sprout in springtime.
It is common to find fruit-collecting birds and squirrels in European and American woods. Thanks to their hard work, seed dispersal of Fagaceae plants has never been easier. By contrast, except in certain valleys and well-protected woodlands, Fagaceae species are relatively rare in the nature of Hong Kong due to deforestation over the course of centuries, including during the Second World War.
Featuring glowing red fruits and emerald green leaves, hollies with the go-to colours of the season belong to the genus Ilex, which includes various trees, shrubs and climbers. As records of the Hong Kong Herbarium suggests, 18 species of native hollies have been found in the city. The cold-resistant hollies blossom around spring and summer, and bear fruits in autumn, or even winter. Most of their fruits are red or black, and particularly favoured by smaller birds (e.g. Chinese Bulbul and Japanese White-eye), helping them survive chill spells.