We enjoy the colorful poinsettia all through the holiday season, but Poinsettia Day commemorates the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the person responsible for bringing the plant into the United States in 1928. Burkholder’s Holiday Pop Up Market has lots of the beautiful plants this year, and in honor of Poinsettia Day, we offer some interesting information about the poinsettia, called cuitlaxochitl in the native language of the Aztecs.
Poinsettia plants are native to Central America and have been a favorite for communities for centuries. The ancient Aztecs were the first to use their leaves as a special dye for clothes and cosmetics while their central milky white sap was pulverized and transformed into a medicine to treat fevers. But while popular in southern Mexico and its surrounding areas, the plant was largely unknown to the United States until the 19th century.
In 1828, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico saw some the plants while visiting the Taxco de Alarcon region, and immediately purchased a bundle to send back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. During this era, wealthy landowners often kept a working greenhouse to grow nonnative plants and send seeds onto friends, and colleagues. The plants quickly became an American favorite and because of his role, the red-leaved plant earned the American nickname of the poinsettia.
The poinsettia was first sold as a cut flower, but the Ecke family, from California, discovered a way to make the plants branch out so they could be sold as whole plants. Until others discovered the secret, they were the biggest supplier of poinsettias in the US. According to the University of Illinois, the Paul Ecke Ranch in California still grows over 70% of all Poinsettias purchased in the United States and does about 50% of the world-wide sales of Poinsettias.
So how did the vibrant plant become associated with Christmas? An old Mexican legend speaks of a peasant girl who lamented to her cousin that she had no gift to give the baby Jesus at Christmas service. Her cousin told her even the smallest gift would be appreciated if given with love and an open heart. The girl gathered a bouquet of the prettiest weeds she could find and willed all her love into them when she laid them at the feet of the nativity scene. At that moment, the weeds burst into the bright redness of poinsettias and were thereby rechristened with the nickname Flores de Noche Buena — or Flowers of the Holy Night — due to her actions and the star-shaped flower and leaves resembling that of the Star of Bethlehem.Interesting Facts About Poinsettias
Even though we see the plant primarily at Christmas, and most families probably let their poinsettias die after the holiday, the poinsettia can be much more. In Mexico the poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10-15 feet tall.
Mary Bowe, Burkholder designer, buys fresh poinsettias every year and keeps them alive through the winter. In the spring, she brings them outside when the danger of frost is past, like a tropical plant. The plant is green in the spring and only changes color if kept in darkness for at least 12 hours a day for 5 days. Afterward, they love plenty of light and can be found in a wide variety of colors.
Actually, the bright star shaped petals of the plant, which we think of as the flower, are just leaves. The flowers are just the tiny berry-like yellow clusters in the center. Those leaves, or bracts, attract pollinators, like insects and birds, who might miss the tiny flowers.
Below are a few noteworthy facts about poinsettias, according to the University of Illinois’ Poinsettia Pages.
You can also find fresh Christmas trees, seasonal décor and unique gift items. While you shop, you can enjoy complimentary hot chocolate, wine or beer and let the kids visit Santa. Check out our holiday page for special events and to learn when Santa will be present.