The holidays provide a great time of year to advance The North Carolina Arboretum’s mission of cultivating connections between people and plants – with presents. Below you will find a half dozen creative ideas for plant-based gift-giving for friends, family, co-workers and others for this year’s holiday season.

1.) Shade-grown Coffee

Every day, more than half of all American adults drink coffee (Coffea spp.), so a bag of well-chosen beans or ground coffee can please a lot of the people on your list. But not all coffee is created equal. Shade-grown coffee incorporates natural tree cover and uses less fertilizer and pesticides than coffee grown in full sun, and most people agree that shade-grown coffee tastes better, too. As an added bonus, during the holiday season, shade-grown coffee farms host many of the migratory songbirds that travel through or nest in North Carolina at other times of the year, including Blackburnian warblers, cerulean warblers and summer tanagers. Visit the Rainforest Alliance or the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center for more information on certification programs and labels for shade-grown coffee.

giftgiving_poinsettia2.) Poinsettias

One plant almost synonymous with the holidays is the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). With its dark green and red colors, it’s a perfect plant for the holiday season. Many people assume that it is the petals of the flowers that form the rich displays of red (or white or other colors), but those are actually bracts – specialized leaves. Native to Mexico, where it naturally blooms in December, the poinsettia was first brought to the United States in the late 1820s by Joel Roberts Poinsett, an amateur botanist and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. Contrary to rumor, the poinsettia is not poisonous, though eating it can irritate the mouth and stomach – so don’t let people or pets eat it. Enjoy it for its beauty instead.

North Carolina growers produce more than 4 million poinsettia plants every year, second only to California. There are now more than 100 cultivated varieties readily available for purchase at countless greenhouses, home improvement warehouses, grocery stores and other locations. Picture (above): Poinsettias located in the Arboretum’s exhibit greenhouse during Winter Lights exhibit in 2014. Photo credit: Robert Priddy. 

3.) Plant a Tree (or a Small Forest)

One great option for a gift that lasts is a tree. Trees can also provide great benefits like shade, oxygen, improved home values and wildlife habitat. Stop by the information desk in the Arboretum’s Education Center for our “Plant and Garden Supply Sources” brochure for Western North Carolina, as well as a series of flyers detailing “Great Trees for Landscapes.” The North Carolina Native Plant Society offers a list of recommended plants for sites throughout the Old North State, as well as a list of nurseries selling those plants.

If your gift recipient lacks the land, time or ability to plant and care for trees, consider donating to a non-profit group that will plant trees in that person’s honor. For every $1 you give to the National Forest Foundation’s tree-planting programs, the foundation will plant a tree to help restore national forests damaged by wildfire, insects, disease and other impacts. Given the extensive fires in our region this year, as well as the Arboretum’s location on 424 acres of Pisgah National Forest, we think this is a great option to consider.

winterlights20164.) Winter Lights

If you prefer to give experiences rather than things, then treat your family or friends to an evening at The North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Lights holiday light display. Open nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. through January 1, this three-acre outdoor walking self-guided tour of the Arboretum’s gardens includes uniquely lit displays and landscapes dressed in nearly 500,000 energy-efficient LED holiday lights. From the Plantasia projected light show to a lighted Quilt Garden to a special animatronic children’s program, Winter Lights has something for everyone, no matter what age – and all proceeds benefit the Arboretum’s facilities and programs. Tickets must be purchased in advance via

On Fridays and Saturdays through January 1, you will also have the opportunity to take a holly, jolly trolley ride to the Arboretum’s Winter Lights show from either downtown Asheville or downtown Hendersonville. The Winter Lights Holiday Tour is a specialty-ticketed event, and reservations must be made in advance by visiting or calling (828) 606-8608.

5.) A Gift Membership with The North Carolina Arboretum Society

For a gift that someone can enjoy all year long, purchase a gift membership with The North Carolina Arboretum Society, which raises funds to support the Arboretum’s facilities and programs, including our youth education initiatives and plant conservation efforts. give-the-gift-enewsThe gift recipient(s) will enjoy 365 days of access to 10+ miles of trails, 65 acres of cultivated gardens and landscape exhibits, rotating science and art exhibits, discounts at the Connections Gallery Gift Shop and Savory Thyme Café, and much more. Gift memberships are $50 for an individual or $70 for a household. Please allow two weeks for processing gift memberships and cards. Please click here or call us at (828) 665-2492 to purchase a gift membership.

6.) Connections Gallery Gift Shop

Still struggling to find the right gift for someone on your list? Check out the Connections Gallery Gift Shop, open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily in the Arboretum’s Baker Exhibit Center – as well as nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. throughout Winter giftgiving_succulentsLights. The Connections Gallery offers more than 200 different gift options across a wide range of prices. Many of these items are plant-based and made locally, including epiphytes and succulents grown in the Arboretum’s production greenhouse, wooden tree ornaments by David Horn, walking sticks by Old Mountain Rustics, wood-turned wine-stoppers by Lawrence Koupal, brooms by Peter Werner and soy-based candles by Paris of the South Candles. All proceeds benefit The North Carolina Arboretum Society.

Thank you for considering all the ways that you can give gifts that cultivate connections between people and plants this holiday season.