The Perfectly Pleasant Poinsettia
A traditional icon of Christmas, the poinsettia’s striking colors have added an abundance of cheer to holiday celebrations for centuries. It is said that the poinsettia was first introduced to American greenhouses by Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett, the first American ambassador to Mexico and the plant’s namesake, was enamored by this Mexican flower, bringing some back to the United States to cultivate and share with his fellow flower enthusiasts. In fact, December 12, the anniversary of Poinsett’s death in 1851, is annually celebrated as Poinsettia Day. The poinsettia has carried a variety of nicknames, however. Names like “lobster flower” and “flame-leaf flower” pay homage to the poinsettia’s signature shade of fiery red. In some Hispanic countries the flower is called “Flores de Noche Buena,” meaning “Flower of the Holy Night” in English; some believe the poinsettia’s association with the Nativity is due to its star-like shape that often reminds worshippers of the Star of Bethlehem. Others claim that an old Mexican legend propelled the poinsettia’s rise to prominence. The legend tells of a poor Mexican girl named Pepita who could not afford a gift for the Christ Child on Christmas Eve. Weeping in regret, she encountered an angel on her way to the chapel who told her to bring an offering of weeds. When she presented her bundle of weeds to the Baby Jesus, they miraculously sprouted into rich red poinsettias. The poinsettia’s rich tradition in folklore as well as its natural allure insure that this dazzling flower will herald the arrival of the Christmas season for generations to come!