The holidays provide countless ways to incorporate plants into your gift-giving and other festivities. Below you will find five creative ways to celebrate the holidays and support The North Carolina Arboretum’s mission of cultivating connections between people and plants.

1.) Chocolate

I once saw a sign that read “Save the Earth. It’s the only planet with chocolate.” It’s hard to argue with that logic. Chocolate also makes for a great holiday present, and in a roundabout way, certain sources of chocolate can help save planet Earth.

Chocolate originates from the beans of the cacao tree, Theobrama cacao, which is Latin for “food of the gods.” Chocolate is great food for mere mortals, too. It’s delicious, of course, and several studies show that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can reduce the risk of stroke, boost heart health and improve blood flow, in turn improving how you look, feel and perform various tasks.

As for saving the earth, chocolate can help with that, too. Many chocolate makers, such as local favorite French Broad Chocolates, incorporate social and environmental issues into their work by paying “fair trade” prices to farmers or directing part of their profits to saving endangered species or supporting other special causes. Keep at least one bar or truffle for yourself and then savor how great it tastes to improve your health and save the world, all at the same time.

2.) Fraser firs

The classic holiday tree is the Fraser fir, Abies fraseri, with its fragrant evergreen needles, strong branches and pyramidal form – perfect for hanging ornaments and lights. The Fraser fir is native to the Appalachian mountains, so it’s no surprise that North Carolina is home to around 1,300 growers of Fraser firs. You can celebrate the holidays and support North Carolina’s farming community by purchasing a North Carolina-grown Fraser fir at a choose-n-cut farm or retail location. Check out the N.C. Christmas Tree Association for interesting facts about Fraser firs, where to buy them and how to care for them.

3.) Enjoy Winter Lights

If you prefer to give experiences rather than things, then treat your family or friends to Winter Lights at The North Carolina Arboretum. Open nightly from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. through December 31, this three-acre outdoor walking self-guided tour of the Arboretum’s gardens includes unique lit displays and landscapes composed of 500,000 energy-efficient LED holiday lights. Tickets must be purchased in advance via Members of the Arboretum Society receive a $2 discount on every ticket purchased, and all ticket prices are lower on “Friends and Family” Night every Tuesday.

On Fridays and Saturdays through December 31, you will also have the opportunity to take a holly, jolly ride to the Arboretum’s Winter Lights show from Asheville’s Renaissance Hotel or Hendersonville’s Cascades Mountain Resort. The Winter Lights Holiday Tour is a specialty-ticketed event, and reservations must be made in advance by visiting or calling (828) 606-8606.

To volunteer at Winter Lights, please click here.

4.) Go Green and Go Local

Still looking for some new tree ornaments or a special 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 p.m. to 10 p.m. throughout Winter Lights. The Connections Gallery offers more than 200 different possibilities across a wide range of prices. Many of these items are plant-based and/or made locally, including succulents grown in the Arboretum’s production greenhouse, all-natural body care products by Essential Journeys and handcrafted gemstone jewelry by SoulKu. Also, the Arboretum’s Holiday Market Gift Shop is open daily in the Education Center from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. through December 31, offering a wide variety of tree ornaments, holiday decorations and more. All proceeds benefit The North Carolina Arboretum Society.

5.) Give the Gift of Membership

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 gardens, programming and more, including our youth education initiatives and plant conservation efforts. The 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 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 the Arboretum at (828) 665-2492 to purchase a gift membership.

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