Poinsettias – A Christmas History

Heather WeickumFlowers, Plants, Special Upcoming Events

Nothing says “Christmas” like an arrangement of poinsettias beneath a Christmas tree, displayed in the entrance of an office, or at home next to favorite decorations. The glow of lights near the dark green leaves and bright red foliage (bracts) announces the holiday season with warmth and cheer. No family gathering or holiday party is complete without this memorable plant. Simple and yet graceful, they have a long history of being a Christmas symbol and an essential feature of winter displays.

Poinsettias are indigenous to Mexico. They are called Flor de Noche Buena, which means Christmas Flower. Perhaps you have heard the 16th century legend about the girl who wanted to give a gift during the church celebration of the Christ Child’s birthday. In case you haven’t…The girl had no money and nothing to bring. Inspired by an angel to gather weeds in the ditch, she laid her offering at the altar. When she did, the weeds turned into the beautiful red and green plants we are familiar with today. Poinsettias have also been said to resemble the star of Bethlehem since their leaves are star-shaped. (Not to be confused with the flower Star of Bethlehem. But wouldn’t that make a great pairing for a Christmas arrangement?)

Though the plants grow year round, it is only during the winter that the bracts will deepen to red. It is the dark nights and sunny days that cause this change. We may complain about the sun setting earlier each day, but this is exactly what these plants need to change color. The extended hours of darkness stimulate a process called photoperiodism, and the result is elegant shades of Christmas colors.

Though the deep red plants are classic and seen in shops, offices, and churches, other popular colors include white and pink. Try pairing two of the colors, or all three, and see how this plant adds to your Christmas arrangements.


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