The Traditional Christmas Flower, The Poinsettia — How Much Do You Really Know About This Plant?

Christmas is three weeks away, and with the Christmas season comes the traditional Christmas flower: the Poinsettia.

The Poinsettia is always in full bloom around Christmastime, and helps bring holiday cheer into our hearts and our homes.

The Christmas Poinsettia. How much do you really know about this Holiday flower?? [Image via Shutterstock]The Poinsettia was named after a physician named Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett, who was the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, also had an interest in botany. While he was in Mexico, he searched the countryside in search of new plant species. In 1828, he came across a beautiful shrub with large red flowers growing alongside the road in the country. He took cuttings from the plant and took them back to his greenhouse in Charleston, South Carolina. Poinsett was an outstanding congressman, but he will always be remembered because he introduced the poinsettia to this country.

When Joel Roberts Poinsett died in 1851, December 12 was designated as Poinsettia Day.

The beautiful red leaves on the Poinsettia plant are not actually the flowers of the plant, they are modified leaves. The actual flowers are located in the center of these colorful leaves. After the flowers shed their pollen, the leaves and flowers fall off. When choosing a poinsettia plant, choose a plant with little or no yellow pollen showing for the longest duration of color.

Poinsettias are not poisonous plants. Studies done at universities showed that a person or a pet would have to digest up to 500-600 leaves for the plant to have any adverse side effects, like an upset stomach or vomiting.

The Christmas flower: The Poinsettia. How much do you really know about it?? [Image via Shutterstock]One thing to remember about Poinsettia plants is that they are a tropical plant. Temperatures below 50 degrees will shorten the life span of the plant, and even kill it. If you purchase your poinsettia from a store, be sure it is wrapped in a paper or cloth container to insulate it from the weather when transporting it. Inside, the poinsettia should not be exposed to drafty windows or doors.

Water your poinsettia only when the soil is dry to the touch. If possible, place the poinsettia where it will get sunlight. Poinsettias do not need to be fertilized until mid-February. After Valentine’s Day, remove any faded leaves and cut off flowers.

There is an old Mexican legend about how the Poinsettia came to be the traditional Christmas flower: There was once a poor little Mexican girl whose name was Pepita. She had no present to give baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve service she was attending. As Pepita walked to the chapel, she was sad and her cousin, Pedro, tried to cheer her up. “Pepita,” he said, “I’m sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves Jesus, will make him happy.” Pepita still didn’t know what she could give to Jesus, so she bent down and picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a small bouquet. She felt embarrassed about her gift because it was so small. As she walked through the chapel up to the altar, she recalled what Pedro had said to her. She began to feel better as she knelt down and placed the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright, red flowers, and everyone who saw them knew they had seen a miracle. From that night on, the bright red flowers were known as the “Flores de Noche Buena,” or “Flowers of the Holy Night.” The shape of the Poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought of as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem, which led the wise men to the baby Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Jesus and the white leaves represent his purity.

When you purchase your Poinsettia, enjoy the festive red leaves and remember the story of Pepita.

[Image via Shutterstock]