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History of poinsettias

By Ray Ridlen

The following information is adapted from Poinsettia History by Steve Dobbs, Horticulture Tips, 1990.

The poinsettia, one of the most popular yuletide plants, brilliantly displays traditional Christmas colors of red and green. Native to Mexico, it was first cultivated by the Aztec Indians who prized this beautiful plant as a symbol of purity. They also used the colorful bracts in making crimson dye, and made medicine from the poinsettia's milk sap.

According to legend, on Christmas Eve long ago, a little Mexican girl was very sad. She wanted more than anything to give a fine gift to the Christ child at the church service that evening. But she was very poor and had no money to buy a present. As she walked toward the church with her cousin, he tried to console her. He told her that even the most humble gift would be acceptable. So, the little girl gathered a bouquet of weeds from the roadside and entered the church. As she approached the alter, her spirits lifted. She forgot about the humbleness of her gift and placed the bouquet at the Christ child's feet. Then, a miracle occurred. Her insignificant weeds burst into brilliant bloom. They were called "The flowers of the holy night," and each year, at Christmastime, they bloom again. We call the plants poinsettias.

The name of this beautiful plant honors Joel R. Poinsett of Charleston, S.C. Poinsett, who served as U.S. Minister to Mexico in the 1830s, sent some of the exotic plants to his family. Poinsettias have carried his name ever since.

Poinsettias were first cultivated in California in 1906. Albert Ecke, began producing better poinsettias. Today, new varieties are continually being developed. In addition to the original traditional red color of the plant, pink, white and marbled varieties are now available, as is a yellow cultivar called Lemon Drop. Poinsettias can also be found in different shapes such as standard branched, tree form, hanging baskets, centerpieces, and mini stars (single stem miniatures).

How long potted poinsettias will retain their color depends largely on how well they are cared for. Temperature is an important factor in plant health. A potted poinsettia should be placed in a cool--but not cold--area. Temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 60 degrees at night are preferable. Cold drafts and excessive heat should be avoided. Indoors, poinsettias should receive bright light, but not direct sun. Water regularly, but not excessively.

Date: 12/10/2012

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