Saturday, December 18, 2010


 On Friday, our office manager brought in two of the most beautiful Poinsettia plants...which now adorn the front desk.  These joyously rich flowers are the first thing you see when you step off the elevator...when it works, that is.  They are such a treasured part of Christmas, which, alas, I cannot enjoy in my house for my cat loves to eat such things.  Why, she has even been known to attack artificial flowers!!!

The Poinsettia has become the official Christmas flower of the United States, and it seems that Christmas decorations are not complete without this beautiful red plant.   Their tendency to bloom during the early winter months, along with their gorgeous red, star-shaped leaves, make them the ideal Christmas plant. Yet, surprisingly, until just a couple of centuries ago the Poinsettia did not even exist in the United States.  Poinsettias are recognized in different place with different names. They are referred to as as 'Crown of the Andes' in Peru and Chile where they  are also called Flame Leaf Flowers.  In the Mayan folklore of South America, it is said that the Poinsettias are actually Divine Beings.

The ancient Aztecs were probably the first to note the beauty of the poinsettia plant.  In fact, the plant had been familiar to them for centuries before the arrival of the Spanish.  In the Nahauatl language, they called it  cuetlaxochitle, and to them, the plant was a symbol of purity.  They used its red flowers (which actually are the upper leaves) to make red or purple dye, and drew its sap as a medicine against fever.  Montezuma, the last of the Aztec rulers, was very fond of them and had poinsettia plants brought up to what is present day Mexico City by caravans because the plant would not grow in high altitudes. 

An ancient legend connects the poinsettia with Jesus' birth: 

Long ago in Mexico, a little girl stood outside a church on Christmas Eve. She watched others taking gifts inside to place before a statue of Baby Jesus. The longer she watched, the worse she felt because she had nothing to give.

An angel saw the girl and spoke to her. "Gather the weeds beside the road and take them to the Holy Child" said the angel.

Drying her tears, the girl obeyed. She gathered a large armful of the green leafy weeds and carried them inside. But as she walked up the aisle, the people laughed at her gift.

The embarrassed little girl placed her branches beside the manger, and suddenly a miracle occurred. The green leaves turned to brilliant red!

Now every year at Christmastime, the green leaves of the Poinsettia turn to bright red to honor the Son of God born so long ago. 

This was declared a Christmas miracle, and from that day
  on, poinsettias were known as the Flowers of the Holy Night.   But how did this plant indigenous to southern Mexico and Central America become a worldwide symbol associated with the holidays?

The history of poinsettia starts in the United States in 1825, when Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and the first United States Minister to Mexico, sent some of the plants home to South Carolina and began propagating them, and although the first commercial poinsettias were developed in 1829, but the plants didn't become common holiday decorations right away.  The popular name "poinsettia" was given to the plant by William Prescott, (one of my great great uncles) and a historian who named the plant in honor of Joel Poinsett. 

Flame Heart
So much have I forgotten in ten years,
So much in ten brief years! I have forgot
What time the purple apples come to juice,
And what month brings the shy forget-me-not.
I have forgot the special, startling season
Of the pimento's flowering and fruiting;
What time of year the ground doves brown the fields
And fill the noonday with their curious fluting.
I have forgotten much, but still remember
The poinsettia's red, blood-red in warm December.

I still recall the honey-fever grass,
But cannot recollect the high days when
We rooted them out of the ping-wing path
To stop the mad bees in the rabbit pen.
I often try to think in what sweet month
The languid painted ladies used to dapple
The yellow by-road mazing from the main,
Sweet with the golden threads of the rose-apple.
I have forgotten--strange--but quite remember
The poinsettia's red, blood-red in warm December.

What weeks, what months, what time of the mild year
We cheated school to have our fling at tops?
What days our wine-thrilled bodies pulsed with joy
Feasting upon blackberries in the copse?
Oh some I know! I have embalmed the days,
Even the sacred moments when we played,
All innocent of passion, uncorrupt,
At noon and evening in the flame-heart's shade.
We were so happy, happy, I remember,
Beneath the poinsettia's red in warm December. 
--Claude McKay--


  1. How wonderful that you have a personal connection to poinsettias! I love them too and nothing makes a more beautiful Christmas decoration.

  2. Forgive me... no time to ingest what you have so nicely written.
    Am off to go eat with a son and his wife/?
    It's been one of those days, but I didn't want to go without saying hello and a pound a week IT IS M/F. :0)
    Any more all the better.
    No contest. No guilt.
    Sometimes a gal just has to cheat a BIT. :0(

  3. I love these plants but cannot have them either because of the cats. Still I enjoy them whenever I see them.

    The poem is lovely too!

  4. A personal connection is quite awesome Mary...I loved your sharing today as I didn't know the history of Poinsettia. I've had my eyes on them when I'm out and about but cannot bring myself to buy one. It'd probably die in my apartment from lack of sunlight, as I only get the morning sun in here.

    Only a few days left before Santa arrives...are you ready?


  5. I love poinsettias too. I got married during the week after Christmas and the church (yes, I wasn't my choice, the other half insisted and no I was not struck by lightning) was covered in them and lit by nothing but candles. Not a lightbulb burning. Whenever I see a poinsettia, that's what I'm reminded of.