Christmas Science: Botany

Christmas Science Botany

Close your eyes and think of Christmas…

What images come to your mind? Probably a Nativity display complete with the baby Jesus in a manger, a bright colorful tree, festive wreaths, piles of presents, furry stockings, nutcrackers.

Now close your eyes again and imagine what Christmas SMELLS like…

If you are like me, you were probably flooded with the scents of clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, cranberry, pine, peppermint, and orange. Our noses have a way of sniffing out nostalgia and taking us back in time to treasured Christmases of our childhood, or of early days as adults with our own families. Why do smells elicit such strong nostalgia? Scents travel from our noses to our olfactory bulb, a structure in our forebrain. This olfactory bulb is part of the emotional center of our brain.


Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia. The flower buds initially have a pale hue, gradually turn green, then transition to a bright red when ready for harvest. In addition to culinary uses, clove can be used as an ant repellent, and a dental pain reliever.


Nutmeg is the seed of an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands of Indonesia. The seeds are egg-shaped and about 1-inch long. The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7–9 years after planting, and the trees reach full production after twenty years.


Cinnamon comes from the aromatic bark of a tree native to Sri Linka. The word cinnamon is derived from the Greek word meaning sweet wood.


Cranberries are a fruit native to North America. The fruit grows on evergreen shrubs or vines. The flowers are dark pink and are pollinated by bees. Native Americans and European colonists prized cranberries for its medicinal benefits. Cranberries are now considered a superfruit due to their antioxidant qualities.


Pine trees are evergreens native to most regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Each country seems to have its own species of pine tree. Pines are long-lived, typically reaching ages of 100–1,000 years. Methuselah is a pine tree in the White Mountains of California and is currently around 4,600 years old. In addition to being cultivated for Christmas trees, pine trees are also grown for timber and wood pulp.


Peppermint is a flowering perennial plant and is native to Europe. Peppermint is actually a hybrid mint, a cross between watermint and spearmint. Peppermint is undoubtedly the most popular herb in the world. It is used in tea, candies, chewing gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, and baked goods.

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