Monday, December 12, 2011

The Christmas Flower

Poinsettia growing wild
in Central America
It's that time of year again. I don't know about you, but our family always stayed home for Christmas so I have no exciting places in mind to tell you about. I can, however, tell you about a Central American native that we all know and love. In fact, this native is the world's most popular Christmas decoration and has traveled widely. We know it as the poinsettia. And how it got from it's native land to every doorstep, store window, shopping center mall, florist shop, and all points in between is an interesting tale.

Exactly how did this lovely flower escape its bounds to spread so far and wide? Plain old serendipity--a fancy word that means "happy chance." And that happy chance came at the hands of the first United States Ambassador to Mexico--Joel Roberts Poinsett.

Joel Poinsett
While visiting Taxco in 1828, Poinsett happened upon a plant with brilliant red blooms. He'd never seen anything like it, so he took some cuttings and sent them back to his home in South Carolina. He may have been an Ambassador, but his hobby was botany.

Once home, Poinsett began propagating the plants which the Aztecs had called cuetlaxochiti. Well, Poinsett gave a plant to a friend to propagate and he in turn gave a plant to a friend, and so on and on it went. Somewhere around 1836 the red-leaved stunner was named Poinsettia after--well, you can figure it out.

Poinsettias readily
grow from cuttings.
Outside of its native habitat, the poinsettia is a house plant that needs to be babied. But in Southern California, all you have to do is talk a neighbor out of some cuttings, stick them in the ground and ignore them. In a few years you'll have a cavalcade of brilliant flowers that bloom atop multiple green-leaved branches. And while the plant never dies back or goes into hibernation, it is only at Christmas that the flowers begin to show.

The Paul Ecke Ranch,
world's largest poinsettia
California produces ninety percent of all the world's poinsettias. The bulk are grown just north of San Diego and visiting the enclosed fields this time of year is a feast for the eyes. Of all the poinsettias available here in Southern California, my favorite is the double flower. It is exquisite in form and just as easy to grow as the regular variety. In the house I used to live in, there was a huge double poinsettia just outside my kitchen window.

The flaming red
plants liven up
many a doorway
Neighbors informed me that some years ago, the previous owner had stuck some clipping in the ground and done nothing more than to water them once in a while. God only knows what those cuttings would have become had the owner actually taken care of them. Those plants were so tall and so filled with flowers that we had to cut one of them back a bit in order to see out the window. But it was all for the good. I had a home filled with vases of vibrant flowers just at the time of year when Christmas decorations adorned nearly every room in our house plus our front porch, the steps leading up to the door, and all along the porch handrail. Where this joyous flower is concerned, there is no such thing as too much.

So now you know that we humans aren't the only ones who travel. Appears to me that the poinsettia has been to more places than most of us.



  1. love this! I look forward to digging around this sight! I may have a couple of guest posts for you if you'd like- we have a very special lighthouse here!

  2. Red flowers are perfect for Christmas. :)