December 9, 2013
Grandma came to our house for Thanksgiving again this year, as she has for the 37 years Iíve been married her son. For the past 20 years, however, sheís not come in person, but in the form of a white Poinsettia.
You see, we lost my wonderful mother-in-law 20 years ago during the Christmas season, and white Poinsettias were our flower of choice for her at her funeral. So every year since, we get a new white Poinsettia so she can be part of our holiday celebration.
And Grandma hangs around far beyond Christmas, in some years well past Easter, and in a few cases, she was still with us at Halloween. The white flowers have long fallen off, of course, but Grandma keeps on a-growing. Thatís because, I discovered, the Poinsettia is really a perennial shrub that will grow 10-15 feet tall in its country of origin, Mexico.
I discovered this the same time I found out that December 12th is Poinsettia Day in the United States, so designated by the House of Representatives in July, 2002, to honor the man considered to be the father of the Poinsettia industry, Paul Ecke, Jr. Ecke hit upon a technique that causes Poinsettia seedlings to branch, resulting in a much fuller plant. Eckeís technique was kept secret for many years and he had a virtual monopoly on the Poinsettia business, until a university researcher discovered and published the formula in the 1990ís.
The December 12th date figures into the history of the Poinsettia, as well, marking the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, an American botanist, physician and Minister to Mexico, who in 1828 sent cuttings of the plant he'd discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.
In Mexico, the plant is called La Flor de la Nochebuena, Flower of the Holy Night, and is displayed in celebration of the December 12th, Dia de la Virgen, a day honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Use of the plant to celebrate Christmas in Mexico dates back to a 17th century legend, wherein a young girl is distraught not having a gift to honor the Baby Jesus in a Christmas procession. When an angel tells her that any gift given with love is a wonderful gift, she gathers weeds by the roadside to place around the manger. The weeds are miraculously transformed into the beautiful red star flower we think of as Poinsettia.
Some Poinsettia facts:
The word Poinsettia is traditionally capitalized because it is named after a person.
Poinsettias have also been called the lobster flower and the flame-leaf flower, due to the red color.
In Chile and Peru, the Poinsettia is called the "Crown of the Andes". In Spain the Poinsettia has a different holiday attribution. It is known there as "Flor de Pascua", meaning "Easter flower".
Poinsettias are the best-selling potted plant in the U.S. and Canada, contributing more than $250 million to the U.S. economy at the retail level.
California is the top U.S. Poinsettia-producing state.
Though once only available in red, there are now more than 100 varieties of Poinsettias -- in pink, white, yellow, purple, salmon, marbled, speckled and multi-colored, with names like 'Premium Picasso', 'Monet Twilight', 'Shimmer', and 'Surprise'
The red Poinsettia, however, still dominates over other color options
The Aztecs used the Poinsettia bracts to make a reddish purple dye for fabrics, and used the sap medicinally to control fevers.
The parts of Poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves). The yellow flowers are actually in the center of the colorful bracts. For the longest-lasting Poinsettias, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing because once the plant disperses its pollen, the bracts fall off.
In nature, Poinsettias were once considered weeds.
The colors of the bracts are created through "photoperiodism", meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. On the other hand, once Poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color.
It is estimated that women account for 80% of Poinsettia sales.
Popular all over the world, the Poinsettia in one Griffith, Indiana, home has a special meaning, too -- Grandmaís come to spend the holidays with us again.