ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

Poinsettias, the Christmas flower, have a long history

Dec 7, 2023, 7:08 PM

Poinsettias are displayed during Christmas mass at The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels...

FILE: Poinsettias are displayed during Christmas mass at The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (Eric Thayer/ Getty Images)

(Eric Thayer/ Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — Poinsettias have become synonymous with Christmastime, but that’s not all the beautiful red and green flowers are known for.

The Poinsettias in history and legend

Indigenous Aztec and Mayan civilizations in Mexico and Central America used the plant for its vibrant red leaves and medicinal properties. They used its sap for medicinal purposes, even promoting milk production in nursing mothers.

A legend from Mexico tells the story of a young girl named Pepita, who wanted to give the baby Jesus something special as a gift at the town’s nativity scene. The girl, however, did not have anything. As she walked to the manger, she picked weeds, arranging them in a bouquet as she went.

To her astonishment, when she arrived, the fistful of weeds had turned into a beautiful bouquet of red and green flowers, called Poinsettias.

The plant gained popularity in the United States in the 1820s when an American diplomat brought some of the flowers to the U.S. from Mexico.

The diplomat, Joel Poinsett, later started cultivating the plant in Charleston, South Carolina.

For decades, Poinsett’s poinsettias were mainly cut flowers until Paul Ecke, a Southern California agriculturalist, developed other varieties that could be grown in pots.

Ecke started selling the flowers. His marketing efforts included featuring poinsettias on TV specials, solidifying their status as “The Christmas Flower.”

Poinsettia care

When it comes to purchasing poinsettias, late November through December is the prime time to buy — starting with Thanksgiving and continuing throughout the holiday season.

To make sure they last, place them in indirect sunlight and avoid overwatering, as they prefer slightly dry conditions.

What about Poinsettias and your pet?

While poinsettias are generally safe for pets, keeping them out of reach is advisable. Ingesting the leaves might cause mild irritation.

Related: Where will Temple Square Christmas lights be located this year?

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Poinsettias, the Christmas flower, have a long history