University of Florida Extension ServiceUF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:

December 12, 2007

Quick Links:   Culinary Herb  Christmas Gifts  Growing in Containers   Florida Native Rosemary    Christmas Articles   References 

Feature Article - for release the week of December 16, 2007

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

An Aromatic Gift

Are you looking for that unique gift for your favorite gardener that will keep on giving? Consider Rosemary, a long lasting plant that is well known as a culinary herb in the kitchen, a hardy long-lasting plant, a drought tolerant plant in arid landscapes, and at this time of year is available as a tabletop tree or a bonsai wreath.

The use of rosemary as a seasoning is well known. Rosemary is also a name given to several Florida native plants that unfamiliar to many.   Rosemary is the subject of today’s UF Extension column – we have all this fun knowledge all wrapped up for your holiday reading pleasure!

Rosemary for the Kitchen

Rosemary is one of the best know herbs, used when cooking pork or lamb,  added to give flavor and aroma to oils and vinegars, and has many other culinary and medicinal uses.  It is a member of the mint family, and known by botanists as Rosmarinus officianlis.

It can grow into a sizable bush, and is used in arid places like California and the southwest as a landscape shrub.  It is covered with needlelike leaves that, when crushed, release the volatile oil and scent. There are several different cultivars of rosemary, some for containers, and others for the landscape and garden.

Untrimmed rosemary can reach six feet in height and width, but pruning improves the look and health of the plant.  In very early spring and sometimes in the fall, Rosemary produces numerous small blue flowers.  It is easily propagated with cuttings, and seed are sometimes used to grow new plants.

Rosemary can be a good plant for our area because it is drought tolerant and fairly cold tolerant. It becomes more fragrant if grown in sweet (alkaline) soil.  One producer described it as an “upside-down” plant – its roots like to be dry, and its leaves like to absorb moisture from the air. 

To grow rosemary successfully, the plant needs excellent drainage - wet spots are not going to support this plant.  And, choose a dry, sunny site to grow it best.   

small rosmary plant

A small potted rosemary plant... 

photo: The Tasteful Garden

... grown larger, staked and thinned out for a bonsai plant.  Photo: cindyeo Rosemary Christmas Tree

A rosemary Christmas tree, available at florists and retail garden centers.  Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS. 

A Holiday Gift for All Seasons

This year I found it a bit difficult to find potted rosemary Christmas trees, but in years past they were easy to find.  Sheared into a cute Christmas tree, they are often sold pre-decorated.  I did see a few in the floral section of the local supermarket.  Many big retailers did not have them this year, but check with local nurseries and florist shops. (If they can not be found, many on-line gift plant shippers can put them on Santa’s sleigh for a small fee.)

A less common holiday gift plant is a rosemary wreath, where one or more plants are trained to a round trellis and trimmed into a small round wreath.  Again they can be found with accessories of bows and other seasonal decorations.  Rosemary is also popular plant for bonsai enthusiasts – its woody stems and longevity make it an excellent choice for practicing this enjoyable gardening specialty. 

Local retail garden centers may have trimmed rosemary plants available as  seasonal holiday gifts.  They come in a variety of shapes, from Christmas tree cones (left) to rounded topiary pom-poms (right). Prices drop as the end of the holiday approaches.  While these species are of high quality, some stores will discount the plants due to leaf drop.  Photo by Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS and courtesy of Target. 


Containerized Rosemary

So why do we hear that it is so hard to keep these gifts alive?  Rosemary has tiny, shallow, hair-like roots which insist on good drainage.  On the flip side though, the plant can not tolerate being permitted to dry out.  Other plants have leaves that wilt to give notice that watering is needed.  But the leaves of rosemary don’t wilt, so that very important warning is not seen.  Rosemary doesn’t give a good clue that it is drying out until it is so dry it’s dead.  So when they are finally so dry they are overwatered, and what was left rots.

According to Brevard County Agent Sally Scalera, when a rosemary Christmas trees are usually a large plant in a small pot.  There are lots of roots without much soil to hold water.  The trick is to give it a larger container with more soil so the plant can go longer between watering.

Here are some hints to help rosemary survive in its pot for years.

*       If you want to keep it in the original pot for awhile, put a plate underneath it. Give it only about a half of cup of water every few days, but only let it sit in excess water for a couple of hours - then pour out the excess water.  Keep it near a sunny window or outside in full sun.

*       After the holidays, replant your tree into a larger clay pot.  Use a fast-draining potting soil mix and replant so the top of the root ball is at the same level as it was in the original container.  Water the plant no more than once every 1-2 weeks, and make sure that a drip tray is below to catch the drained water.  And give it plenty of light.

*       Thin out the foliage to let in the air and allow the leaves to dry out.  (The clippings can be used fresh in the kitchen, or dried for future use.)  However, don’t take off more than 1/3 of the growth - overpruning can stress the plant.

*       Another option is to plant rosemary Christmas trees outside in full sun after the holidays.  Just before planting, sink the container into a bucket of water so that the plant is sitting in water for a half an hour or so.  (This will make sure that the root ball is totally saturated before planting.)  Plant it in a sunny location in well drained soil, and mulch around the base of the plant.  Water in the newly planted rosemary.  In a few days, check the soil moisture with your fingers, but don’t water it if the soil feels cool.  Be careful that landscape sprinklers don’t keep it too wet.

Native Rosemary Plants

When I first moved to the Orlando area, there still were many areas of undeveloped woodlands. One nearby area was a sand pine/scrub woods filled with many plants that were new to me.  Among the understory shrubs was one with upright stems covered with short flat evergreen leaves that were arranged in criss-cross pairs.

The locals called it rosemary, but it lacked the distinctive rosemary smell.  I later looked at some Florida native plant identification books, and found it listed as Florida rosemary, Ceratiola ericoides.  This plant would not be confused with true rosemary, as it smells more like a wet dog than a pleasing potpourri.

Scrub Rosemary

The Sand-hill or Florida Rosemary Ceratiola ericoides  is a native of scrub habitats in the SE US.  Photo: A. Murray, UF/IFAS

False Rosemary (Conradina canescens)  is found in Highlands, Polk and Pasco counties, plus various other locations in the Florida panhandle, Alabama and Mississippi. Photo: USF Plant Atlas  The closely related Lakella's Mint Dicerandra immaculata is a federally endangered plant found only in South Vero and Easter St. Lucie counties. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

Other Florida natives have the rosemary name attached to them.  There are several species of scrub mints, Conradina spp.  Most of these look somewhat like the cultivated rosemary.  Some of their leaves have a minty smell, but they are not used in the kitchen.

In the spring, these plants erupt with lots of small white or lavender colored flowers that are popular with bumblebees and other pollinators.  These Florida natives are also found in scrub habitats, with some growing only in Florida.  Certain species of scrub mint are listed as federally endangered plants - they should not be disturbed if seen on walks in the woods.


Ghosts of Christmas (Articles) Past

If you need more information on the many different kinds of  holiday plants or want to know more about the folklore and traditions associated with them, go to our county Extension website and take a look.  And if you have any special holiday plants that I’ve not covered, please let me know and I will see what I can find.

Holidays are Sealed with Mistletoe

Three Ancient Gifts (Frankincense & Myrrh)
2006 UF Poinsettia Field Day Colorful Christmas Cactus Care
New Greens for Holiday Giving Tabletop Christmas Trees (houseplants)
Christmas Palm Real Trees for Trimming  
Got Trees?  Kiss Karefully with Mistletoe (making sprigs)
Buy a Real Christmas Tree - Revised for 2006! Preventing Holiday Fires
Hollies for the Holidays Perfect Poinsettias
Perfect Poinsettias (re-release) Choosing Your Christmas Tree
Tropical Anthuriums for Holiday Color Spread Holiday Cheer with Ivy 
Rosemary Amaryllis

I’ve placed more information on our Okeechobee web page,  If you need additional information on Rosemary, please email us at or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoons.  Happy Holidays and GO GATORS!


Trade  names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Millie Ferrrar-Chancy, Interim, Dean. Last update: 11/14/2011.  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert  


Cimbalik, Sara.  The Rosemary Christmas Tree.  Jacksonville: UF/IFAS Duval County Extension Service, November 2005. p.4 

Florida Rosemary, Ceratiola ericoides  (Aquatic, Wetland and Invasive Plant Particulars and Photographs).  Gainesville: UF Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, 2005. 

Gilman, E.  Large-Flowered Rosemary Conradina grandiflora  [FPS-139]. Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, October, 1999. 

Hill, Candy.   Wild Eye Watch on Florida Rosemary. Florida Master Naturalist Newsletter.  Immokalee: UF/IFAS SWFREC,  Jan 2006. , p.3

Lakela's Mint, Dicerandra immaculata. Tallahassee: Florida  Natural Areas Inventory, 2000. 

Martin, Cindy & George.  Rosemary.  Birmingham: The Tasteful Garden [newsletter/website].  September 2006. 

Neal, Anita. Herbs. Ft. Pierce: UF/IFAS Extension Service, undated. 

Patrick, Allison and Krakow.  Protected Plants of Georgia.   Atlanta: Georgia Department of Natural Resources, 1995. 

Schoellhorn, R.   Warm Climate Production Guidelines for Herbs [ENHFL04-002].  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, 2002.

Stephens, J.M. Herbs in the Florida Garden (CIR-570).  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, May 2003 

Welch, William C.  Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis.  College Station: Texas A&M University, Extension Service, JULY-AUGUST 2003