Love them or hate them Poinsettia plants are now as integral to Christmas as the wreath on the door and the crackers on the dinner table.
Native to Mexico and Central America Poinsettias were considered by the Aztecs to be a symbol of purity and used them for dye and in medicines. They were introduced to the US in 1828 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico. The anniversary of Joel’s death on 12th December is today known and celebrated in the US as Poinsettia Day.
So why are Poinsettias so intrinsically linked with Christmas? Is it due to the 12th December, their festive red and green colours, a girl called Pepita or a combination of all three? But who, I hear you cry, is Pepita?
Mexican legend tells us that Pepita was a poor girl who had no gift for the baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. In desperation she picked some weeds from the roadside and made a small bouquet. Pepita joined the Christmas procession and on entering the Chapel she placed her bouquet by the nativity scene. Instantly the weeds turned into bright red flowers and this was thought to be a miracle, signifying that any gift given with love is a wonderful gift. Thereafter the bright red flowers became known as Flowers of the Holy Night.
Today Poinsettias come in many colours including apricot, white, lemon and pink. The bright petals may look like flowers but are actually the upper leaves of the plant, called bracts. Easy to look after Poinsettias need a warm, draught-free place to sit with plenty of natural light.
Some people take great pride in being able to keep their Poinsettia plant going for several Christmases. Many more people try but end up with a fairly pathetic looking specimen so maybe it’s best to add the plant to the compost bin in the New Year. I know that’s what I’ll be doing but if you know the secret to keeping a plant going then please post a comment. You may save my Poinsettia’s life.