White flowers remind us of freshly fallen snow, of course. But shades of white stir up other seasonal memories too: icicles glistening from trees on winter mornings, your breath forming cloudy puffs on walks, the angel costume you wore in a Christmas pageant - even froth on eggnog.
These sentimental associations make white-flowered plants nearly irresistible during the holidays, and the gift-plant industry knows it, offering more choices every year. The scene at right shows a sampling. Dendrobium orchids in silvery cachepots and a single begonia grace the mantle; a pair of white azaleas and a large peace lily (Spathiphyllum) decorate the hearth; a cineraria rests on the tabletop in the foreground and a hydrangea adorns the far table.
In mild-winter climates, you can put the azaleas, cineraria, and hydrangea outdoors after the holidays. Remember that many holiday plants are forced into bloom and will revert to their natural cycles after their winter flowering.
Indoors, give your plants a cool spot with bright, indirect light and keep them away from drafts and heating vents. Water when the top 1/2 inch of soil becomes dry. For planter sources, see below.
More snowy blossoms
The azalea pictured here and its companions in the room can bloom for weeks. Other white-flowering plants, including those listed below, are sold as gifts during the holidays, and they can create a similar effect.
Crab cactus (Schlumbergera truncata). 'White Christmas' has flowers with spreading, pointed petals.
Cymbidiums. The long-blooming orchids are among the easiest to grow.
Kalanchoe. Hybrids and named varieties of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana come in various sizes. Tiny flowers grow in tight clusters above succulent green leaves.
Lacecap hydrangea. 'Shooting Star' is an especially showy variety. Each double flower is shaped like a star within a star and stays on the plant for four to six weeks before fading.
Miniature roses. Buds open to small, perfectly formed roses among deep green foliage.
Paperwhite narcissus. Favorite bulbs for the holidays; fragrant flowers in a single pot can perfume a whole room.
Source: Ribbed white planters, tabletop pots, and silver cachepots from Ikea ( www.ikea.com).