The poinsettia has been one of the most popular sources
of the display of red, scarlet and crimson, the colors of Christmas, for its
natural, vibrant red colour! Poinsettia is also known as the Mexican flame
leaf or Christmas star (Euphorbia pulcherrima). Poinsettia is a plant known
for its striking red displays at Christmas time. It is often used as a floral
Christmas decoration because of its festive colours.
Poinsettias are native to southern Mexico
and Central America, where they may reach heights of sixteen feet. They are
named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico,
who introduced the plant in the U.S. in 1825.
The "flowers" are actually
large bunches of coloured leaves (modified bracts); the flowers themselves are
in the center of each leaf bunch, but rather small and inconspicuous. Cultivars
have been produced with orange, pale green, cream and marbled leaves. It is
essential that the plant receives no light at night between approximately October
and Christmas. The slightest exposure to light during this critical period will
often prevent "flowering".
A Mexican legend explains how poinsettias
came to be associated with Christmas. Apparently, a child who could not afford
a gift to offer to Christ on Christmas Eve picked some weeds from the side of
a road. The child was told that a humble gift, if given in love, would be acceptable
in God's eyes. When brought into the church, the weeds bloomed into red and
green flowers and the congregation felt they had witnessed a Christmas miracle.