History Of The Poinsettia Flower

History of the poinsettia flowers. More poinsettia plants will be sold in North America in the six weeks before Christmas than all others combined in a year. Here's why!

The number one selling potted plant in North America is the poinsettia, grossing more than $250 million sales during the six-week period before Christmas. Poinsettias, by design or accident, have become as much a symbol of Christmas as Christmas trees and mistletoe.

The plant originates in Mexico, where it grows as a shrub, sometimes as high as ten feet. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries the Aztecs were known to use the poinsettia to control fevers, regarding it as an agent of purification. As well, a purplish red dye was produced from modified leaves, i.e., leaves which had changed color from green to red, called bracts.

Shortly after the Spanish conquest, Franciscan priests were said to have used the poinsettia in their Nativity processions, likely because of the timeliness of the plant's dramatic color change.

A few legends have attached to the poinsettia. Most popular is that a poor Mexican girl and her brother brought it as a gift for the baby Jesus; hence the term Flowers of the Holy Night originated. One version of this legend is that a poor child prayed for a gift to present to the

Christ child and saw the plant grow at his feet before the altar.

The plant's shape has been suggested to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, with red leaves symbolizing the blood of Christ, and white leaves, His purity.

The plant's name derives from Joel Roberts Poinsett, former American ambassador to Mexico, who introduced it in the United States in 1828, when he began cultivating the plants in his South Carolina greenhouse.

It remained for the Paul Ecke family of Encinitas, California, to popularize the poinsettia and market its sales into the commercial success it is today. The Paul Ecke family continues to be North America's leading producer, growing more than 80% of poinsettia in the U.S. wholesale market and credited with having started 90% of the 100 varieties of flowering poinsettias worldwide.

Marketing the poinsettia has not been without its problems. Rumor had it that in 1919 a two year old child died after eating a leaf. Exhaustive scientific and medical studies over many years found no evidence of toxicity. Yet, the rumor of the plant's poison potential persisted. Finally, in 1975, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission rejected a petition to require

warning labels.

Ironically, the poinsettia is a perennial plant which people treat as an annual. To maintain it and to have it re-bloom is somewhat troublesome. Moreover, it cannot survive in cooler climates.

This year, more than sixty-five million potted poinsettias will be grown for the holiday season, a remarkable number for a roadside shrub from Mexico.

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