Poinsettias: the Red Christmas Flower

Poinsettias: the Red Christmas Flower

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If you are a lover of flowers or you celebrate Christmas, then you will know about Poinsettias and the many purposes people use them for. Poinsettias, also known as the Red Christmas Flower, are indigenous to North America and are a species of the spurge family. It is known for its beautiful red and green features, which are used as a floral decoration in many homes as well as on Christmas trees. Also, many see them as shrubs or small trees and are generally measured at 0.6-4 m in height.

The leaves of the little tree are usually dark green and measure up to 16 centimeters in length. Many people tend to mistake the colored bracts as flower petals but if you should assess a little deeper, you will realize they are leaves just the same. The plant is special in the sense that if you want the colored bracts to shine in all its beauty, you have to ensure the plant gets at least 14 hours of darkness for a few weeks. In addition to this, you still have to ensure the plant gets enough light to help it maintain its colors and shades.

All About The Poinsettia

An interesting feature of the Poinsettia is that the flowers do not attract bees, thus, pollination does not take place. The flowers are usually grouped and found in an inner region of the plant.

Where Are Poinsettias From?

Poinsettias are said to be grown wildly in Mexico and some parts of Guatemala as well as slopes facing the Pacific ocean. One region in Mexico, in the state of Guerrero, the plant is said to be a true native as this area is known for growing and cultivating lots of plant populations, including the Poinsettia. The Aztecs originally planted them as they believed it could be used for medicinal purposes. Since then, a lot of people have been using them and even including them in their homes, especially at Christmas time and other seasonal decorations. The popularity in the use of the plant has grown over the years as to date, more than 70 million poinsettias have been cultivated and sold in the US for just a single holiday.

Poinsettias: the Red Christmas Flower bunch of poinsettias

Who Discovered The Poinsettia?

Poinsettia has a rich history and, as noted, dates back to Mexico. However, the first person to truly introduce it to the United States and the world was Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first Ambassador to the new Republic of Mexico. It was during a visit to the Taxco region that he saw the ruby red-bloomed plant and fell in love with it. He was fascinated by the looks and features of it that he had to snap the photos and send the clippings back to his friends in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. Poinsett was a doctor and soldier and also an amateur botanist, thus, his love and passion for flowers. On his return home, he brought a few of the plants with him, and since then, it spread all over the country.

The original botanical name for Poinsettia was Euphorbia Pulcherrima, named by German botanist, Wilenow in 1833. However, in 1837, historian William Hickling Prescott was asked to rename the plant, which he did to Poinsettia Pucherrima. It was done in honor of Poinsett for his many contributions to the government and the horticulture industry. Since then, the plant was named Poinsettia.

Is the Red Christmas Flower non-toxic?

It is believed by many that the Poinsettia is toxic and was based on a misconception in 1919 when it was said a two-year-old child died after consuming one of the plant’s leaves. As such, the plant was included in a popular book, Poisonous Plants of Hawaii, by H.R. Arnold in 1944. However, in the years following and with multiple types of research being done, Arnold admitted he didn’t have any proof that the plant was toxic and was only based on hearsays. Later down the years, the US Food and Drug Administration sent out a newsletter with the heading “one poinsettia leaf can kill a child.” Seeing the source of the article, it was later banned from nursing homes and other public places because of the supposed toxicity.

Poinsettias: the Red Christmas Flower several plants on a table

The test and research on the Red Christmas Flower never seemed to be at a close end as more experiments were done, including animals, to test if it was fatal. But, to everyone’s surprise, nothing happened, and no animal died from the experiments. As such, the plant was re-introduced to the public, and the only issues that were noticed were nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting is the plant was swallowed. Also, only some people were affected with minor rashes if they were exposed to the plant for too long. From the thousands of calls made to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, over 93% noted they were not affected by the plant. In contrast, the others only noted minor issues but nothing fatal. 

How did they become tied into Christmas?  

The history behind how the Poinsettia became a significant part of Christmas celebrations has a sad yet happy feeling. It was during a Christmas eve service at the chapel when people were expected to bring gifts to give to baby Jesus as they celebrated His birth. However, one little girl named Pepita, who was from a poor background, was headed to the service but was sad and depressed as she couldn’t afford a gift to take.

As she walked to the chapel, her cousin tried to cheer her up and told her it didn’t matter about the price of the gift but the heart it is coming from. When she heard this, she picked a handful of weeds by the roadside and made it into a small bouquet, and though she was sad somehow, her cousin’s words gave her confidence. She walked through the hallway of the chapel and placed the bouquet at the bottom of the Nativity scene. To everyone’s surprise, the plant burst out small red flowers in a beautiful design, and everyone thought it was a true miracle they had just witnessed. Since then, the plant was referred to as ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night.’

Symbolic Vision of the Red Christmas Flower

The Poinsettia leaves shape similar to the Star of Bethlehem, which led the Wisemen to Jesus. The red leaves are a symbol of Jesus’s Blood, while the white leaves represent purity.  

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