In amongst all the jingling bells and the gold and red glitter, you’ll find a living, thriving Christmas plant—the poinsettia. Now, this attractive plant is not actually a flower; the rich red leaves are the source of the color, not a blossom. So why is the poinsettia so popular at this time of year? Read on, and you’ll find out.
Otherwise known as the Christmas star, that should be your first clue. The star-shaped configuration of leaves reminds us of the star that brought shepherds and wise men to Bethlehem. The dark, “holly” green and red foliage are other common symbols for this time of year. But it’s the fact that the poinsettia grows wild in Mexico and parts of Central America that really got the tradition going.
As the story goes, a 16th-century girl was too poor to provide a gift for the church at Christmas, so an angel inspired her to gather weeds by the roadside. This she did, and the weeds sprouted forth into the beautiful poinsettia. From the 17th century onwards, Franciscan friars in Mexico were bringing these flowers to the altar, and the tradition has stuck.
It’s a beautiful story of a miracle, and easy to see why the poinsettia might become a flower of Christmas. Yet it’s not really a cold-weather plant, so bring yours indoors out of the frost and let it thrive. You can, by jumping through a moderate number of hoops, get them to color up for a future holiday season, but often it’s easier just to acquire a new poinsettia each season.
The flowers have been cultivated for a while, now, and come in creamy white as well as pinks and other shades. But the most well-known form is that vivid, pretty red, a plant that says Christmas the minute you see it.