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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The unknown history of the Poinsettia

Where does this “tradition” come from?
The poinsettia wasn't introduced into the US until the early 1800’s.  It was introduced by Joel Poinsett.  Poinsett, a Charleston, SC native, was ambassador to Mexico and curious botanist.  The Poinsettia, then known as “flor de la noche buena” meaning “flower of the Holy Night(Christmas Eve)”, is indigenous to Mexico where it can grow over 10 feet tall.  The poinsettia Poinsett found would have looked nothing like the Christmas decoration we know today.  Poinsett brought a sample back and no doubt the legend behind it.

It was said that a poor girl had nothing to give baby Jesus on Christmas.  She found some weeds and placed them at the alter.  They happened to be poinsettias, blossomed and everyone thought it was a miracle.

Poinsettia and Christmas
When Poinsett brought the flowers back to the US, they quickly received the name “poinsettia”.  In the early 1900’s a farmer named Ecke began growing the plant in the US.  His family later began to associate it with Christmas in order to sell more.  The Ecke family even developed a special grafting technique that made the plants more compact and more full which are the flowers we know today.  With this special grafting process the Ecke family maintained a near monopoly on poinsettia production.  Today that same family controls 70% of domestic flower production and 50% of global flower production.

Poinsettias are displayed on December 12th for “Dia de la Virgen”.  December 12th is also  Poinsettia Day in the US a day to remember Joel Poinsett’s death. Poinsettias are, contrary to popular belief, not poisonous. Poinsettias were used in Central America as a dye and medicine. The plants do, however, produce a latex that can irritate the skin of people with a latex allergen and pets. A curious botanist and ambassador brought back a plant that was marketed to consumers with a legend from Mexico and that is how we got the tradition today.  

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