There is an old Mexican legend about how Poinsettias and Christmas come together.
In the 1500’s, there was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who was sad because she had no gift to give the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services. Her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up, saying “I’m sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him, will make Jesus happy.”
Pepita picked a handful branches from a shrub along the roadside and made them into a small bouquet. She knelt at the altar and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the branches burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’.
The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.
Joel Roberts Poinsett, ambassador to Mexico from the USA, in 1828 sent the plants to South Carolina and started growing them there for friends and botanical gardens. So began poinsettias in America. They’ve been here so long that a number of myths have grown up around them. Maybe you’ve heard a few?
- Poinsettias are poisonous. Not so. Even though the milky sap can irritate skin, a 50 pound child would have to eat 500 bracts (the colored leaves) to accumulate a level of toxin to be harmful. And they taste quite bitter, so who would eat that many?
- Poinsettias die as soon as you bring them home. But if you water it sparingly without letting it sit in water, keeping it in the light and draft free, it will last many weeks. They can even be used as cut flowers in arrangements or bud vases.
- All poinsettias are red. No, you all know there are poinsettias in white, cream, pink and variegated.
- Poinsettia flower blossoms are big. No, the colored “petals” you see are actually the leaves. The flowers are really the tiny yellow berry-like structures in the center of the leaf bract.
- Now a true fact: Poinsettias are known as Christmas Stars throughout nearly the whole world. Bursting into color in the deepest, darkest days of winter with their star-shaped leaf bracts, poinsettias represent Christmas to many people.