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Christmas berry

Chironia baccifera

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Christmas berry is part of the Chironia genus and its scientific name is Chironia baccifera.

This is a fast-growing, rounded suffrutex (shrub with woody stems only at the base), which grows to an average height of 450 mm but can reach 1 m. The leaves are small, narrow and dark green. It has starry bright pink flowers, followed by red berries. It flowers from November to January.

The Christmas berry has been used to treat several ailments in traditional South African medicine. It was originally used by the Khoi and adopted by the early European settlers. One of the main uses is as a purgative. Infusions and tinctures are used to treat a range of ailments including haemorrhoids (piles), stomach ulcers, syphilis, leprosy, diabetes and kidney and bladder infections. It is also used as a bitter tonic and to expel a retained placenta after childbirth. Another use is as a blood purifier for skin conditions such as acne and boils.

Parts of the plant were fried in butter and applied to sores (Roodt 1994).

The side effects that are known include slightly loose stools and sleepiness.

A combination of bitterbos and wildeselery (Peucedanum galbanum) is a well-known Cape remedy for arthritis. Another interesting fact is that Chironia baccifera contains gentiopicroside and chironiocide, which are bitter substances traditionally used in the liquor industry.

Despite its medicinal uses, it is said to be toxic to small stock, and eating 250g of dry material is enough to kill a sheep (Burger 2002).

It grows mainly as a Perennial, so it will last at least up to several years in its native climate.

Normally reaching to a mature height of 1.62 feet (50.0 cm).

South Africa is believed to be where Christmas berry originates from.

Typically, Christmas berry is normally fairly low maintenance and can thus be quite easy to grow - only a basic level of care is required throughout the year to ensure it thrives. Being aware of the basic growing conditions this plant likes (soil, sun and water) will result in a strong and vibrant plant.

This plant info is provided by the myfolia gardener's wiki. All details about Christmas berry have been kindly provided by our members.

How to grow Christmas berry

  • Partial Sun

  • Medium

This fast-growing, ornamental shrub looks stunning when planted in groups as a hedge, in rockeries or as a border along the front edge of a flowerbed. It can be planted in full sun or partial shade. Plant in light, well-drained, composted soil. Keep soil moist throughout the year. Plants are at their best for 2 – 3 seasons, after which they need to be replaced.

Plant in a location that enjoys partial sun and remember to water moderately. The USDA Zones typically associated with Christmas berry are Zone 9 and Zone 13. Keep in mind when planting that Christmas berry is thought of as half hardy, so protect with a row cover whenever the temperatures drop.

See our list of companion Plants for Christmas berry to see which plants you should plant in close proximity to encourage growth.

Growing Christmas berry from seed

Best to sow seeds in spring. Sow seed in a tray filled three quarters with soil, lightly compacted and cover with a thin layer of soil, water well. Treat seedlings with a liquid fertilizer.

Transplanting Christmas berry

Ensure that temperatures are mild and all chance of frost has passed before planting out, as Christmas berry is a half hardy plant.

How long does Christmas berry take to grow?

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Christmas berry Etymology

The name _Chironia* refers to this plant’s medicinal attributes. It is named after Chiron, the good Centaur of Greek mythology who studied medicine and other arts. Legend has it that after he died, the god Zeus elevated him to the southern sky as alpha and beta Centauri, the two pointers of the Southern Cross. The specific epiphet, *baccifera":, means berry-bearing.

Christmas berry Folklore & Trivia

The attractive red berries ripen at Christmas-hence the common name. The Afrikaans name aambeibessie refers to its use as a remedy for piles.

Other names for Christmas berry

Aambeibossie (afrikaans), Bitterbossie (afrikaans), Barsbessie (afrikaans), Kalwerbessie (afrikaans)

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