Christmas Trivia - Poinsettias
What is the Christmas Meaning of Poinsettias?
The pointsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) comes from Mexico and Central America. It is well known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays. The Poinsettia is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who brought the plant to the United States in 1825.
The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as a treatment for fever.
The poinsettia's association with Christmas began with a legend of a young girl in the 16th century who was too poor to provide a Christmas gift, but was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. The weeds are said to have blossomed into poinsettias.
In the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.
Today the Poinsettia is known in Mexico and Guatemala as "Noche Buena", meaning Christmas Eve. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.
In the 20th century, most poinsettias came from a Los Angeles farm that had discovered a grafting technique that resulted in a an attractive bushy poinsettia, instead of the normal, leggy plant. The owners kept their technique a secret, and sent free plants to television stations to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and even appeared on Christmas specials to promote poinsettias. Soon, the demand for poinsettias grew, and the owners became millionaires with a near monopoly on the poinsettia market.
In the 1990's, researchers at public universities discovered the secret of propagating attractive "free-branching" poinsettias. Competitors finally began offering poinsettias. Prices dropped, production increased, and the flowers are now abundantly available at Christmas, with over 100 million sold each year -- mostly grown in Mexico and Guatemala.
It is widely believed that poinsettias are poisonous. Although poinsettia sap may cause an allergic reaction, even ingesting poinsettias in large doses does not appear to be fatal.