There are several occasion symbols and traditions that have become ingrained in our lifestyle and at times it appears as a riddle when we start thinking of where they started from. Along with Christmas trees, the poinsettia always pops up when one thinks of holiday plants for December’s celebrations. Its history, particularly how it ended up in the United States and linked with Christmas, is interesting doubtlessly. The plant thrived in the Southern part of Mexico. The native people, Aztecs used this plant a lot. They got a purple dye from poinsettia’s bracts and used it in beauty products and materials. The white sap, which is known as latex today, was used as a fever treatment.
This plant might have stayed as a local plant forever if not for the work of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the child of a French specialist, Poinsett who was appointed by President Madison as the ambassador from the US to Mexico. Poinsett had studied medicines personally, but his true passion was in botany.
Poinsett had his own gardens on his South Carolina houses. In 1828, when he met the Taxco zone, he was spellbound by the amazing red blooms that he found growing in the area. He instantly the plant to South Carolina. Then he started growing poinsettias and gave some to expert flowerbeds and colleagues.
John Bartram from Philadelphia was one of the recipients of the plant. He then gave the plant to a nurseryman in Pennsylvania known as Robert Buist. He was the first individual who sold poinsettia under the botanical name of Euphorbia pulcherrima. Though, its common name, poinsettia only became popular in 1836 – the plant was named after the first man who conveyed it to the US.
The legend of Poinsettia
A boggling story is described of Pepita, an underprivileged young Mexican who couldn’t afford a gift for on Christmas Eve services for the Christ Child. As she moved slowly to the congregation beside her cousin (named Pedro), she felt sadness rather than bliss.
Left with no other option, Pepita picked some weeds growing along the roadside. She shaped them into a bundle. With the scrappy-looking bundle, she became more mortified and disheartened by the simplicity of her gift. She was about crying as she went into the small prayer house in the town.
As she advanced toward the platform, Pedro’s kindhearted words came to your mind: “Even the smallest gift, when given with warmth, will be acceptable in His eyes.” Her spirit lifted as she bowed to put the bundle at the altar. Out of the blue, the heap of weeds turned into red flowers, and everyone who saw them was certain that they had seen a Christmas magic moment right before their eyes.
Since then, the splendid red blooms were called the Flowers of the Holy Night (i.e. Flores de Noche Buena), because they grew yearly during the season of Christmas and in this way, the poinsettia’s legend was born.
A National Wonder
During the 1900’s, the poinsettia began to get widely popular when Paul Ecke Sr. made poinsettia plants that could be grown in pots. He began selling them at roadside stays in Hollywood. In 1923, he built the Ecke Ranch which currently produces around 80% of poinsettias that are bought and sold in the country.
Today, the poinsettia is the most popular plant sold during the events and the raving-success pruned plant in the US. Within six weeks before Christmas, over 70 million poinsettias were sold. In July 2002, the US Congress appreciated Joel Poinsett’s work by pronouncing December 12th as the National Poinsettia Day that celebrates his death date (1851). The day was made to celebrate Poinsett and urge people to value the splendor of this plant.
More information on Poinsettia
Poinsettia is a shrub, which can grow to a height of 2-13 feet. In the U.S., they are rated as hardy in zones 9 to 11, so they have to be kept in the house during winter. When you buy your plants during the Christmas season, ensure that they are well wrapped to keep them from getting cold. Unwrap the plant once you get home if not the bracts and the leaf stems will start to hang.
Poinsettias have big red bracts that are often confused with blooms, however, they are just leaves. They can be marbled, white, pink, red, cream, light green, or orange. The color of the plant depends on the process known as photoperiodism, which means they need a particular number of darkness every night to transform from green to other colors. The blossoms have a yellow color and are actually located inside the red bracts.
How to Care for Poinsettia after Christmas
- During winter, place your plant close to the window so it can get adequate sunlight. It does well in air temperature around 60-70⁰F. If the temperature gets too high, the will quickly lose its beautiful bracts. Low temperatures aren’t favorable either because the plant is sensitive to cold.
- Only water the plant when the soil feels dry. Insufficient watering will make the leaves drop. Overwatering will make the leaves become yellow and afterward drop.
- Provide necessary nutrients to the plant by using appropriate fertilizer for houseplants and follow the usage instructions indicated on the label.
- Towards the end of February (or early March), cut the plant to 4-6inches and leave 1-3 leaves per stem. Proceed with your usual fertilization and watering plan.
- In the spring, you can put the plant outside when evening-time temperatures are reliably above 50⁰F. Before you do as such, you should consider repotting it if it has outgrown the pot that came with it. Outside, keep it in an area with some shade.
- In autumn, you have to take the plant back inside when the evening-time temperatures are reliably below 45⁰F. You can place them outside during the day.
Even though they first just came in red, mainstream reproduction has made poinsettias in several colors. Nothing says holidays more than a poinsettia. Their beauty is on a league of its own.