November 29, 2022
Melissa was researching Christmas traditions and clicked on a site about the poinsettia. We seem to end up with this flowering species every Christmas. We have purchased them for ourselves, for others and had them revert to our house, and have occasionally been given a poinsettia by someone else. When they first arrive, they are beautiful, most often bright red but occasionally ivory white. The problem has always been they rarely last longer than the holiday season, no matter how late in the season we get them. Melissa was perusing the site trying to discover why they seemed to die when she came across something completely unexpected. The poinsettia is a type of succulent.
When I looked online, I found the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a flowering species of the diverse family Euphorbiaceae (yes, it is related to the E. Ritcheie is just wrote about). The species is indigenous to Mexico and Central America and was first described by Europeans in 1834. It is particularly known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays. The poinsettia derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico, who is credited with introducing the plant to the US in the 1830’s. The Poinsettia is a shrub or small tree, with heights of 2 to 13 feet (0.6 to 4 m). Wild poinsettia plants occur from Mexico to southern Guatemala, but their populations are highly fragmented due to unregulated deforestation. The plant is often thought to be toxic, but it is not dangerous to pets or children, and exposure (even eating) usually has no effect. Consumption has been known on occasion to cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Unattended puppies and children will eat almost anything.
The Poinsettia is now associated with the Christmas holiday and are popular seasonal decorations. The meaning of poinsettia at Christmas came about due to the Legend of Pepita and the Poinsettia during the 1800’s. The legend goes that a little girl (Pepita) was going to her church’s Nativity but did not have money to buy the baby Jesus a gift. She picked a few weeds from the roadside to create a bouquet but was disappointed with her gift. Her cousin reminded her that a simple gift, given in love, is always appreciated by God. When Pepita presented her bouquet, it bloomed into a bunch of vivid red poinsettia plants. That is why the poinsettia is also called the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ (Flowers of the Holy Night). Others say people use a poinsettia at Christmas because it represents the Star of Bethlehem, the light that led the three wise men to the baby Jesus. The US sells around 70 million poinsettia plants of many cultivated varieties during the six-week Christmas season. Many of these are grown by Paul Ecke Ranch, which produces half the worldwide market and 70% of the US market. They seem to be able to keep them alive, so there is hope.
THOUGHTS: Prior to being known as the Christmas flower, the poinsettia plant was called the ‘cuetlaxochitl’ by the ancient Aztecs who cultivated the plant for use in traditional medicine. As early as the 14th century, they used the plants as a type of medicine to lessen fever symptoms. It is also utilized as red and purple dyes for clothing. The wild plant was domesticated and has now been cultivated into over 200 varieties. Now that Melissa knows this is a succulent, she is determined to keep ours alive (we already purchased two). The wild poinsettia was striking enough to be noticed and preserved by the Aztecs and has been passed on to Western culture as the Christmas star. As a domesticate they represent a US$250 million venture, yet wild cousins are in danger of eradication. Deforestation destroys species that provide miracle drugs and economic value. Ecosystems are worth more than the money they produce. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.