Poinsettias: Flores de Noche Buena or The Christmas Eve Flower
Writer / Nancy Craig
At Christmastime, we love to decorate with the beautiful poinsettia flowers. Now they come in many colors and variations, but I love the traditional deep red ones. The tradition of decorating with poinsettias at Christmas was brought to America by the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. National Poinsettia Day, December 12, was set in his honor.
Last month, we stayed with my great nephews, Max and Eli, and we helped them with their homework. At the time, Max was studying the Aztecs in his sixth grade history book. Some parts of the Aztecs’ history were not pretty, but the Aztecs used the bracts of the poinsettia plant to make a red dye for their clothes. The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is a shrub native to Mexico. What we think are the red flowers are really the colored bracts or modified leaves of the plant. See this excellent link for the story of the poinsettia and how to care for it: extension.illinois.edu/poinsettia.
My great-nieces, Lindsey and Lauren, will love the storybook, “The Legend of the Poinsettia” by Tomie dePaola. In the story, a little girl, Lucinda, does not have a gift for the Christ child. “Then a mysterious old woman appears from the shadows and tells Lucinda, ‘Any gift is beautiful because it is given. Whatever you give, the Baby Jesus will love because it comes from you.’” Lucinda takes a handful of weeds as a gift, and it becomes a bouquet of beautiful red flowers. It was considered a miracle, and the flowers were renamed as the Flores de Noche Buena or the Christmas Eve flower. We call them poinsettias.
Speaking of Christmas and gifts, this book is on my list, “The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home” by Tovah Martin. Next month, we will garden inside by checking out ways to add and care for houseplants like the poinsettia.