Easter palms of yesterday and today


Immortality plants of yesterday, today and tomorrow

Evergreen woody and herbaceous plants still symbolize the resurrection of the body and immortality of the soul. Anything green from afar in the garden, forest and meadow was woven into Easter palms. Among the cultivated shrubs chosen were: boxwood and decorative forms of dye and ivy. Today the palette of winter-hardy plants, not badly able to withstand the climate even in the central and eastern districts of Poland, is much wider. This is partly due to climate change, partly to the efforts of breeders, and finally to the potential of the plants themselves, adapting to our frosts and “cold gardeners.” For modern Easter palms (as well as Christmas decorations or wreaths for All Saints’ Day) the main plants used are: mahonia, scarlet cucumber, many yams, Japanese spindle-tree, laurel, Meserva holly, Japanese rue, less often heather, evergreen garland, winter hardy honeysuckle (Henry’s, Japanese or pointed) or Julian barberry.

In previous centuries, it was popular to use winter-hardy perennials that are scarce in our country: forbs, fennel, sometimes ferns (common fern, tongues or spiny ferns) and wild carnations: frayed and blue. The selection of domestic woody plants that remained green all year round was also quite rich. It included not only conifers (especially yew and juniper), mistletoe and wild ivy specimens, but also many heaths (bearberry, cowberry, pearberry and baldcypress helper), quite a few beanaceous plants with rhododendron-like, vivid green stems (broom, juniper and bristlecone), locally also northern winterberry and head laurel. When the winter was mild and what hardier specimens retained their foliage, so did ligustrum and waxwort.

Such an immortal that it needs protection

Wild species, harvested en masse for a wide variety of purposes (not only as ornaments, but also as herbs) became increasingly rare, finally becoming completely extinct on many sites. The sizable proportion of evergreen forms on the lists of protected species is not surprising. Strict species protection has been in place in our country since 2014:

  • marsh pine;
  • The rarest heathers: bearberry and swamp heather;
  • European waxwing;
  • gingerbread;
  • water elisma;
  • Ferns: common uvula, sharp and spiny ferns;
  • pitchfork: peat fork and four species of pitchfork (alpine, cypress, Issler’s and Zeiller’s).

Partial species protection is provided:

  • Other domestic heaths: swamp, crowberry, common larch, umbellifer’s helper, single-flowered pear tree, four species of pear tree;
  • Northern winterberry (linnea);
  • Mountain pines: dwarf pine and limber;
  • common yew;
  • National carnations: frayed and blue;
  • fern – suberic ribwort;
  • many pitchforks: juniper pitchfork, clove pitchfork (babimor, black ladder), flattened pitchfork, pitchfork coneflower and holly pitchfork.

What was, and is not, (not) written in the register

Before 2014. protected species lists were slightly different. At that time the protection was provided by evergreen vines and perennials: ivy, fennel, sweet fern, sweet woodruff and common hellebore. The protection of some of them has become so deeply ingrained in Polish consciousness that they are still listed today as species of special concern for a particular reserve or forest district. They also recur, though increasingly rarely as protected species, in environmental impact assessment reports.

Many of these plants have over the centuries acquired a variety of uses, but also superstitions and dialect names. So they fully deserve separate stories. Let’s take a look, for example, at the enemy. As a strong laxative, it was sometimes used when poisoning was suspected. Hence its popularity among ancient Sarmatians with a taste for mushrooms and meats (it was called spica sarmatica, by the way). In Russia and neighboring countries, it still replaces esperal today. In general, it should not be combined with alcohol and tobacco, nor should it be treated on its own.

The baldachin helper, as the name suggests, helped with many mysterious ailments of the soul and body, most likely inflicted by evil forces. This was reflected in many dialect names, such as uraznik or stanownik.

Old or new?

Wintergreen and head laurel were not very well known in former Poland, despite having somewhat relict natural sites here. Jakub Waga, a famous botanist from the Russian partition, lamented that Poles spend so much money every year to buy linnea seedlings, while this shrub can be independently dug somewhere in Augustowsk or Kielce. The winterberry was long regarded as a glacial relic. It remains, moreover, one of the Scandinavians’ beloved shrubs. Today, it is rather seen as a pseudorelic, otherwise known as a wandering relic, as it is able to grow in new, man-made habitats. The head laurel is living up to its fame as one of Poland’s few Tertiary relics. In the area of the Opatów Silicas, it was still renewing its flowering in the first half of the last century. It was then, despite bans, picked en masse for bouquets or moved to gardens.

Sometimes the same name referred to very different plants, but with similar uses. Suffice it to mention the “nietota” made famous by Micinski. It was either some kind of pitchfork or savina (Sabine juniper, found in Poland in the wild only in the Pieniny Mountains, while overly common in cultivation in the form of decorative varieties), in any case something winter-hardy, with a rather strange, kind of reptile-like appearance (due to its scaly leaves) and a strong laxative effect.

Of the plants that lose their leaves in autumn, and are often included in Easter palms, the southern prickly pear has been given strict protection, and the sand-flower (immortelle, cat’s-paw) has been given partial protection. The symbol of Easter remains the open pasqueflower, which blooms around the time of the holiday, and is one of the few (along with the hellebore) in the Polish flora sources of blue and purple dyes for Easter eggs.

Some of the “hawthorns” (actually: wild roses), once woven into palms to commemorate the crown of thorns, cannot wait for species protection. This is especially true of one of the few endemics in the national flora: the Kostrakiewicz rose, found only in the Pepper Mountains of Sandomierz. Also infrequent, and additionally endangered due to the disappearance of baulks and mid-field thickets, are the Jundzila, field (agricultural), elliptical, Hungarian, small-flowered or garland roses. Strict, and at the same time active protection, only the French rose has lived to see in our legislation.


Some of the plants formerly woven into palms were used a week later as so-called resurrection flowers (Orpheus flowers, phoenix flowers). In the Polish flora – with the exception of the forcicle – they were practically absent. To this day, few poikilohydric species are mentioned among vascular plants, i.e., capable of surviving maximum desiccation and then growing back after being poured with water. Since the late 19th century. Transient popularity among connoisseurs has gained relict, the last representatives of the ostrich family native to Europe: Jankaea heldreichii, serbian ramonda (serbian phoenix) Ramonda serbica and Rhodope haberlea (Orpheus flower) Haberlaea rhodopensis. It’s a good thing that the fad for them has passed, because the species, with such sparse populations and small ranges, may not have survived the fascination with rockeries, which nearly deprived us of the much more numerous edelweiss and gentians. Exercises in plant physiology and environmental education classes are sometimes varied by “enlivening” a variety of forbs, Asteriscus asteriscus, the fern-former Pleiopeltis polypodioides, Craterostigma plantagineum, and Myrothamnus flabellifolius. As a souvenir from the Holy Land, the resurrection anastatica (jericho rose) is offered, although the straightening of its stems after pouring water does not at all mean a return to the world of the living.

Real palm trees and their tropical doubles

Our climate is clearly warming up, but is it warming up enough to introduce real palms into our green spaces, and not just their hardy replacements, the acetate sumacs and yucca that we have known for centuries? Among the two and a half thousand areca species (true palms in the botanical sense), at most a few, maybe a dozen, can tolerate negative temperatures. As you can easily guess, these species evolved in high mountains or deserts, where temperatures can drop below freezing at night. Relatively speaking, they do best in our country:

  • Hornets Fortune’s Trachycarpus fortunei and Wagner’s T. wagneri;
  • low dwarf Chamaerops humilis;
  • specimen jubea (honey palm) Jubaea chilensis.

The canary date palm Phoenix canariensis, the threadleaf Washingtonia filifera and the sabal minor Sabal minor endure our cold worse.

Globalization and the development of hothouses have meant that for several decades the leaves of real palms and cycas have been used at Palm Sunday services. Particularly popular as “palm branches” are the leaves of the upturned sago Cycas revoluta.

Adam Kapler – botanist, plant ecologist, science journalist and historian of natural sciences. He graduated from the Faculty of Biology at the University of Warsaw. For more than 12 years he worked at the PAN Botanical Garden – Center for the Preservation of Plant Diversity in Warsaw-Powsin, where he implemented a number of conservation and teaching projects. He is a member of the Polish Botanical Society, the Polish Dendrological Society, the Center for Wetland Conservation and a couple of other ngo’s. Starting in 2022. Employed at the Department of the Environment. Environmental Affairs of the National Environmental Protection Agency’s PGWW.

In the article, I used, among other things. From the works:

1. Köhler P., (2016). Sacred plants in a survey by Joseph Rostafinski (1850-1928) in 1883. Ethnobiology Poland, 6: 129-190.

Ordinance of the Minister of the Environment dated October 9, 2014. On the protection of plant species (Journal of Laws of 2014, item 1409).

Decree of the Minister of Education dated August 29, 1946. Issued in consultation with the Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform and the Minister of Forestry on the introduction of species protection of plants (Journal of Laws of 1946, No. 70, item 384).

Ordinance of the Minister of Forestry and Wood Industry dated February 28, 1957. On the introduction of species protection of plants (Journal of Laws of 1957, No. 15, item 78).

Regulation of the Minister of the Environment of January 5, 2012. On the protection of plant species (Journal of Laws of 2012, item 81).

Scott P., (2000). Resurrection plants and the secrets of eternal leaf. Annals of Botany, 85(2), 159-166.





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