The poinsettia’s origins date back five centuries to Mexico. The Aztecs called it the star flower, while in Peru and parts of Chile the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is widely known as Crown of the Andes.
Legend has it the plant’s association with Christmas began in the 16th century in Mexico. A charming story is told of Pepita, a poor Mexican girl who had no gift to present the Christ Child at Christmas Eve services. As Pepita walked slowly to the chapel with her cousin Pedro, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy. “I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in his eyes,” said Pedro consolingly.
Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggly bunch of weeds, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. She fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel. As she approached the altar, she remembered Pedro’s kind words: “Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in his eyes.”
She felt her spirit lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red and all who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night), for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.
Later, the plant was named poinsettia after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the United States ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant to his country in 1825. In the US, National Poinsettia Day is marked on December 12, the date Poinsett died, but its purpose is to enjoy the beauty of this popular holiday plant.
The largest breeder of poinsettias is Ecke Ranch in California, home of the world’s leading poinsettia variety ‘Prestige’. The most popular red poinsettia sold in New Zealand, ‘Prestige’ was selected for its eye-catching, vibrant, dark-red colouring, which doesn’t fade like some of its predecessors. Its ability to hold on to its shape and colour for long periods of time enhance its value as an indoor colour option over the summer months.
Pop into your local Mitre 10 store this Christmas to get your Poinsettia.