At Oster and Associates, part of what we do is story telling. We’d like to share a Christmas story with you that has been a part of the work for the agency for many years.
‘Tis the season for… Poinsettias!
When you think of Christmas flowers, I’m guessing only one comes to mind… The famous Christmas poinsettia. As it turns out, this most popular of holiday flowers isn’t even a flower at all; it’s actually a perennial shrub. We find ourselves incorporating these special plants into our Christmas celebrations and traditions without even knowing why they became associated with the holiday. So how did the poinsettia become a part of history, spanning generations to become the iconic Christmas “flower?” The poinsettias story is quite unique and largely unknown – until now.
The origin of the Poinsettia: Cuetlaxochitl (kwet-la-sho-she)
Dating all the way back to 14th century Mexico, the Aztecs used Cuetlaxochitl (or better known as the plant we call “poinsettia”) for a variety of purposes such as creating red and purple dyes for textiles and clothing, as well as medicines derived from the plant’s milky white sap. The timing of the annual bloom for this highly treasured plant, along with an old, popular legend, began the poinsettia’s association with Christmas traditions.
Pepita and the Poinsettia
As legend has it, while a young girl named Pepita was on her way to church on Christmas Eve, she realized she did not have enough money to buy an offering to present to the baby Jesus. As she traveled to her village chapel, Pepita began to gather roadside weeds, forming a humble bouquet as a gift for the newborn Jesus. Upon placing the bouquet at the base of the alter, the weeds miraculously burst into the fiery red plant the locals knew as Cuetlaxochitl, and with time the plant eventually became a flor de Nochebuena, literally meaning “the Christmas Eve flower,” or simply “the Christmas flower.”
The namesake of the poinsettia
For decades the poinsettia’s association with Christmas was almost entirely confined to small Mexican towns until the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, fell in love with the Cuetlaxochitl and decided to bring some home to the United States. Being a skilled and avid botany enthusiast, Poinsett successfully cultivated the plant in his South Carolina greenhouse, and it wasn’t long before he began sharing this amazing flower with family and friends to marvel at the plant’s colorful transformation around Christmas time. The captivating Christmas plant became such an international hit that the flower formally attained its name of “poinsettia” after the man who first introduced the plant to the United States.
A national phenomenon
In the 1920’s, Paul Ecke Sr. began to grow and promote poinsettias. His family founded Ecke Ranch where they developed the first poinsettia plants that could be grown indoors and in mass quantities. Still to this day, Ecke Ranch provides nearly 70 percent of commercially grown poinsettia plants that are bought and sold in the country. The poinsettia is the best-selling plant during the Christmas season, so much so that even congress has given the poinsettia recognition by declaring December 12 as national poinsettia day in honor of Joel Poinsett who died on December 12, 1851.
This iconic narrative has withstood the test of time, making the poinsettia an unforgettable holiday symbol.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays from your friends at Oster and Associates!