This is the beautiful plant we've come to associate with Christmas. Officially December 12th is Poinsettia Day. The date marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, an American botanist, physician and Minister to Mexico who in 1828 sent cuttings of the plant he'd discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.
In July of 2002, the House of Representatives created Poinsettia Day, passing a Resolution to honor Paul Ecke Jr. who is considered the father of the poinsettia industry. It was Paul Ecke's discovery of a technique which causes seedlings to branch that allowed the Poinsettia industry to flourish.
It may come as a surprise to hear that every year, Poinsettias contribute upwards of $250,000,000 to the U.S. economy-at the wholesale level! Poinsettias are the best selling potted plant in the U.S. and Canada.
The Ecke's technique remained a secret until the 1990s when a university researcher discovered and published the formula. Both Paul Ecke Sr. and Paul Ecke Jr. worked tirelessly to promote the plant and its association with Christmas. Today their ranch, situated in Encinitas, California is run by Paul Ecke the third.
In Mexico the plant is called La Flor de la Nochebuena or, Flower of the Holy Night and is displayed in celebration of the December 12th, Dia de la Virgen. White Poinsettia. Use of the plant to celebrate Christmas in Mexico dates back to the 17th century.
The flower connects to the legend of a young girl, distraught about not having anything with which to honor the Baby Jesus in a Christmas Procession. An angel tells her that any gift given with love is a wonderful gift. Later the weeds she gathers by the roadside to place around the manger miraculously transform into the beautiful red star flower we think of as Poinsettia. But Mexico's relationship to the plant goes back even further.
The Aztecs called the plant Cuitlaxochitl meaning "star flower" and used it to produce a red dye. The sap was also used to control fevers. Montezuma, last of the Aztec king had Poinsettias delivered to him in by caravan to what is now Mexico City.
Even though the flowers are red you want to look for green, a dark green to be exact. Look at the leaves because fallen or damaged leaves indicate poor handling or fertilization, lack of water or a root disease problem. You want your flowers to be in proportion to the plant and pot size. The plant should be 2 1/2 times taller than the diameter of the container.
Sometimes when you go to the store the plants have paper or plastic around them. Ditch those. Those plants will not thrive or do well. Plants that are placed close together aren't a good option for you. Crowding isn't healthful.
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