Next up on the ‘plants we associate with Christmas’ roundabout is the Poinsettia (aka, Euphorbia pulcherrima). Here are five fast facts about these red and green beauties.
- Like many commercially important species (including a whole lot of crops), poinsettias are endemic to Mexico. The cultivated plants we see today probably originated from the Mexican state of Guerrero.
- Poinsettias first became associated with Christmas in the 16th century. The story goes that a young girl, too poor to find a Christmas gift, instead gathered weeds for the church alter, but the miraculously turned into poinsettias. The star-like shape is also said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red colour symbolises Jesus’ blood sacrifice.
- Those coloured parts aren’t flowers, but are actually specialised leaves, known as bracts. We tend to see them in bright red, but they can also be orange, pale green, cream, pink, and white.
- The name poinsettia comes from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico. Back in 1825, he introduced poinsettias to the US. Poinsettia is also known as ‘Mexican flame flower’ , ‘painted leaf’, ‘Christmas Eve Flower’, ‘Crown of the Andes’ and even ‘Easter Flower’.
- The Aztecs were the first to cultivate poinsettia, but the commercial industry really took off when Paul Ecke developed a grafting technique which made smaller bushier plants. The Ecke family had near-monopoly on the poinsettia plant trade until John Dole, a uni researcher, also discovered the method and published it.
This was the entry for the second day of our advent calendar. You can find all other entries here.