Last year, I was awarded a very high, distinctive honor here at High Plains Journal. I won the first ever Christmas Cookie Decorating Contest, the prize of which was one beautiful brilliantly red poinsettia in a plastic Santa Claus container.
(It’s no Fra-gee-lay leg lamp, but it’ll do.)
And so, my major-ish award got a place of honor on a shelf by my office window, where its brilliant red leaves could bask in the sun and cheer up my view last December.
I knew, though, that this party was going to be fleeting, because try as I might, I’ve never been able to keep a poinsettia alive for a full year. At best they make it to January and then their carcasses are tossed to the curb.
But I thought, why not challenge conventional wisdom and try to keep this plant alive past Valentine’s Day? So thus began my year of the poinsettia.
She (I named it Patty) surprised me. Through my hectic winter travel schedule and missed waterings, to the spring and her leaf shedding she kept going. In the summer I realized I probably should rotate her pot so she would grow evenly, but even with her lop-sided setting of leaves, she stayed alive. I held my breath through the fall, but sure enough, she made it. Maybe she was a little more spindly than when she came into my life, but Patty was preparing for the winter finish line.
At the very least, her leaves were plump and deep green and she showed every sign of life.
So here we are, December, and Patty the poinsettia made it a full year under my care. I’d like to think the spirit of Ambassador Joel Roberts Poinsett is smiling down on my little experiment. When he was named the first ambassador to the new Republic of Mexico in 1828, Poinsett, who was also an amateur botanist on the side, discovered the plant that the Aztecs used to call Cuetlaxochitl. It was later renamed by American botanists the poinsettia in his honor.
Historians say Montezuma himself, the last of the Aztec kings, adorned his palaces with the plant. It’s said that the plants reminded the Aztec people of the blood red sacrifices their gods had made to create the universe.
Of course, when the 17th century Fransiscans came to the southern Mexico region, they started associating the flower with Christmas because it tends to put forth its best and brightest red leaves at that time of year. The Fransiscans associated the star-shaped leaf pattern as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color as a representation of the sacrifice of Jesus.
I look at my Patty Poinsettia, though, and I marvel that a simple desert plant crosses so many different cultures, from the Aztecs, to Franciscan monks, to an American ambassador who took a liking to its quirky beauty and introduced it to the world. And I’d like to think that all those who’ve gone before us would appreciate that this plant, no matter its name, has become a symbol for millions around the globe of a season of hope, of family, of joy, and of love worthy of a great sacrifice.
That’s surely a major award we all can enjoy.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.