For me, the poinsettia is the unmistakable herald of the Holiday season. I remember how my dad would bring one home as soon as they came available and Mom would place the cheery red bloomed plant on the wide ledge of the front hallway window. Throughout my childhood, the exotic star flower was a part of the anticipation of Christmas.
As a young girl, little did I know that I would one day live in the land of the poinsettia. When I first arrived to live in Merida, I did not realize that the thriving lanky limbed bush on the far side of our fledgling garden was a poinsettia. In late October, before my startled eyes, the green leaves on the tips of the long branches began turning color. By mid November they were scarlet.
The Latin name is Euphorbia pulcherrima. Endemic to Mexico’s central valleys, in the Nahuatl language it is called Cuitlaxochitl. The Aztecs used it to produce a red dye and also discovered that the resin was a powerful drug to lower fever.
The plant’s association with Christmas began in the 16th century in Mexico, where it is said that a small child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the side of the road and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson “blossoms” sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. The leaf reminded the colonial priests of the star of Bethlehem . During the XVII Century, they baptised the plant with the name, “Noche Buena” and were the first to use it as an emblem of the Christmas season.
In 1828, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the United States Minister to Mexico introduced the plant to his countrymen… and as they say, the rest is history.
Although we no longer have the poinsettia shrub in the garden, several (red, pink and white) potted plants are on tabletops and tucked into corners of our home… letting everyone know that Navidad is not far away.
Poinsettias decorate the gardens of Chapultapec Castle in Mexico City
The images of the poinsettia are from my albums and www.victortheflorist.com