Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It’s Poinsettia Season!

Poinsettias are a national phenomenon during the holiday season, but the history of these plants is not commonly known by consumers. In this blog post, the ECPR team will uncover the history of Poinsettias. Given the fact we have written about and publicized thousands of plants over the years, we thought a look at the story behind Poinsettias would be quite appropriate for our blog. We hope our friends and fans find the history of these holiday plants as fascinating as we do!

Poinsettias originate from the most southern regions of Mexico and Central America. Ancient Aztecs first discovered the plant species blooming in tropical highlands one winter, and named it Cuetlaxochitl, which means “flower that grows in residues or soil,” in the Aztec language of Nahuatl. Originally, the red leaves of Poinsettias were used to dye clothing and produce a form of cosmetics, while the milky-white sap was used to help reduce fever temperatures.
Photo courtesy of Foxcrawl.com
Poinsettias were first thought to be associated with Christmas back in 16th century Mexico. It is believed that a young girl, too poor to afford a gift for the celebration of Christ’s birthday, gathered weeds from the side of the road and placed them in front of her church altar. The crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds into beautiful poinsettias. Later, during the 17th century, Franciscan priests, who resided near Taxco, located in the Mexican state of Guerrero, were said to have used full blooming Poinsettias as part of the nativity precession. The star-shaped leaf pattern is thought to have symbolized the Star of Bethlehem, and the red leaves were said to represent the blood sacrifice though the crucifixion of Jesus.

In 1828, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Ambassador to Mexico, discovered the crimson-red plants while visiting the Taxco region. Enraptured by its beauty, Poinsett sent clippings of the plant back to his home in Charleston, SC. He then began propagating them in his greenhouses and sending samples to his friends. In 1833, German botanist, Wilenow gave the plant its botanical name of Euphorbia pulcherrima. It was in 1937 when the plant had been renamed to Poinsettia by William Hickling Prescott, wishing to honor Dr. Poinsett. Today, many professional growers cultivate Poinsettias, making them widely available to retailers and their consumers almost everywhere. Consider purchasing these beautiful plants this season for their gorgeous appeal as well as to support the growers who make them accessible.

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