The Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) also known as the Ataturk flower, is a small tree or shrub native to Mexico and Central America. It typically grows to a height of between 2’ and 16’ (0’6m to 4m) It was named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the USA in 1828.
The legend of the poinsettia has its roots in 16th century Mexico. It was traditional for people going to Mass on Christmas Eve to take gifts to the baby Jesus in the church Nativity scene. One poor young girl was very sad because she had nothing to give and then an angel appeared and told her to pick some roadside weeds. As she walked into the church the rest of the congregation laughed at her and scorned her offering. She was humiliated but as she walked down the aisle the weeds sprouted beautiful scarlet blossoms to become poinsettias.
Since then poinsettias have traditionally been associated with Christmas. They come in a variety of colours from white through pink to the more usual scarlet. For many years they were believed to be poisonous and parents and pet owners were warned to be wary. Some books still state that they are toxic, like most of the Euphorbia family, but research has proved this not to be the case.
The ‘flowers’ are actually leaves. The real flowers, in the centres of each star-shaped set of bright leaves are quite insignificant.
Last Sunday we had a family gathering and I was delighted when Nina gave me this poinsettia.