In my twenty years as a music director in various churches, I always delighted in a sanctuary filled with poinsettias at Christmas time. What lovely plants and how evocative they are of the Christmas spirit. After the final Christmas service when just the minister and a few volunteers remained, the question was always put out: “We have so many poinsettias. Please take as many as you like home.” And so it was that there were always at least 5 poinsettias regaling our home in late December.
Poinsettias are a shrub representative of the “Euphorbia” or “Spurge” family and there are many relatives which grow in Southern Ontario. Snow-on-the-mountain, cypress spurge and leafy spurge all come to mind. Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America.
The scientific name for poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima. “Pulcherrima” means the “prettiest.” What looks like red leaves are actually bracts which support the flowers. These bracts can be red, orange, pale green, cream, pink, white or marbled in colour. The flowers are grouped within small yellow structures which are found in the center of each leaf bunch.
The original use of poinsettias as a Christmas symbol goes back to 16th century Mexico. A peasant girl named Pepita was too poor to afford a gift for the Christ child at Christmas. She was told by an angel to go out and gather the prettiest weed that she could find. And she did.
The plant is very symbolic of Christmas with the star-shaped leaf pattern representing the Star of Bethelem and the red colour representing the tragedy of the crucifixion.
Now, if only I could keep these marvelous plants looking good for more than a week!