The Christmas Poinsettia … Traditions And Tidbits

The beauty and abundance of Christmas flowers and plants certainly add to the joy of the holidays. Recently I was at a local greenhouse and just the sheer amount of glorious poinsettias in full bloom was breathtaking.{{more}} The poinsettia, perhaps the most spectacular plant of the season is indigenous to Mexico and Central America. It’s association with Christmas began in the 16th century. Legend tells of a young Mexican girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus ’ birthday. She was inspired by an angel to collect weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Red blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became the beautiful red flowers.

Beginning in the 17th century, Franciscan friars also in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern was said to represent the Star of Bethlehem and the red color symbolized the blood Christ shed at his crucifixion.

It was Joel Roberts Poinsett, who while serving as our first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in the 1820’s brought cuttings of the plant back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. Later William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, named the plant in Joel Poinsett’s honor. In the early1900’s the Ecke family of southern California grew poinsettias outdoors for use as landscape plants and as a cut flower. Eventually the family grew poinsettias in greenhouses and is recognized as the leading producer of poinsettias in the United States. Today 90 percent of all poinsettias are exported from the United States and there are over 100 varieties. The colored bracts – which are usually red, but can be a variety of colors- are often thought to be flower petals, but are actually the leaves. Did you know Dec. 12 is National Poinsettia Day?

While you are enjoying your poinsettia plant here are a couple of tips that will insure their continued bloom.

Maintain a temperature of 65 to 70 F during the daylight hours and if possible move it to a cooler location at night.

Avoid hot or cold drafts, which may cause leaves to drop.

A sunny window is optimum, but don’t let any part of the plant touch the windowpane –it can be injured.

Water when the soil is dry to the touch. Allow the water to drain freely out of the drainage hole. If a saucer is used, discard the water that collects in it. Don’t sprinkle water on top of the leaves – they don’t like it!

If wilting occurs, immediately water and five minutes later, water again.

And a final thought:

Kind hearts are the garden,

Kind thoughts are the roots,

Kind words are the blossoms,

Kind deeds are the fruits John Ruskin

Warmest wishes for a joyful holiday season!

Marion Rizzo is past president of The Garden Club of Orange.