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Nothing conjures up images of a traditional Christmas celebration quite like the rich, velvety poinsettia plant. Since these blooms have become so tightly connected with the winter holidays, we bet you didn’t know they’re actually tropical! Here’s how Christmas poinsettias became the ultimate holiday flower.
The history of poinsettias
The Aztecs once called poinsettias “Cuetlaxochitl,” which meant “mortal flower that perishes and withers like all that is pure,” and used them to dye their clothing and cure illnesses. They believed that red was the color of wholesomeness, so they often included poinsettias in their religious rituals.
The plant wasn’t introduced to America until the 19th century, when U.S. ambassador and botanist Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett traveled to Mexico and discovered it in the Mexican wilderness. He was so enamored with the leafy blossoms that he sent some to his home in South Carolina. As time passed, the poinsettia—which was officially named after its American founder—caught on and became a staple of Christmas celebrations in homes all over the country. An official holiday was even created in honor of the wildly popular plant: National Poinsettia Day, which is celebrated on December 12.
Poinsettias and Christmas
But how did the poinsettia plant become associated with Christmas? A popular Mexican legend says that a poor girl once wanted to offer Jesus a large, fancy gift on Christmas Eve, but she couldn’t afford to buy one. But an angel suddenly appeared to her and explained that any kind of gift would do, no matter how humble it was, as long as it was given with love. The angel then instructed the girl to pick weeds and bring them to the church. When the girl did as the angel said, the weeds turned into exquisite red poinsettias, and that is how the miraculous flower became a part of the Christmas celebration.
Caring for your poinsettia
Poinsettias are wonderful to look at and add their own special magic to the holiday season. To keep them looking their best, you must care for them properly. In caring for your poinsettia, the most important things to remember are temperature, light, and watering. Poinsettias are light-loving plants and prefer southeasterly, easterly, or western window exposure. Since they’re tropical plants, they thrive in temperature of 65-70 degrees. At night, they can be moved to a cooler location, but never below 60 degrees. In northern climates, keep plants away from drafts and cold windows.
The soil of your plant should be checked daily so it is lightly moist, but never soggy or over-dry. Both dryness and over-watering can cause leaves to droop or fall. A half-hour after watering, check to see that your plant is not sitting in water. If there is excessive water at the bottom, drain it off to prevent root damage.