The poinsettia flower is one of the most recognizable floral symbols of Christmas. The poinsettia, also known as the euphorbia pulcherrima, is a shrub or small tree that is native to Mexico, and can grow anywhere from 2 to 16 feet in height. These flowers are surrounded by large, toothy leaves, and are made up of bracts – a colorful, modified leaf – instead of actual petals. These blossoms may be seen in the traditional deep red, cream or white, orange or pink, light green or marbled hues. Poinsettias, which were named after the first Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, are considered very easy to keep – especially while potted and kept in the house. These plants are best kept at a temperature between 60 to 70 degrees during the day, with well drained soil and only limited fertilizer.
The poinsettia flower has an undeserved reputation of being poisonous. Although its milky white excretions may cause some minor irritation to the skin, the flower itself – and, in fact, the entire plant – has been deemed non-toxic. The poison control center of Madison has made the statement that if a small, 50 pound child was to consume these flowers, he would have to eat at least 500 bracts to begin feeling any minor sort of gastrointestinal discomfort. Aside from its ill repute, the poinsettia flower actually has a long, rich history. Although these flowers were introduced to the United States in 1825, and are now commercially grown in all 50 states, they got their meager start in Mexico. Instead of being an ornamental flower, poinsettias were used by the Aztecs as both a deep purplish red dye, and a medicine to help ease fevers. During the 16th century poinsettias began to be referred to as Noche Buena – meaning “Christmas Eve” – as these flowers then got their start as the accepted symbol for this sacred holiday.
The poinsettia flower can make for a truly unique gift. Although people most commonly present these flowers during Christmas, or simply to represent December births, some people give them because they symbolize either the traditional sense of purity, or the modern ideas of cheerfulness, mirth, celebration and success. They may also be given to those with strong religious convictions, as they are thought to be a holy symbol of the Star of Bethlehem. Poinsettias are occasionally given in bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages; however, they can most commonly be seen in their potted form – usually decorated with red or green paper and golden ribbon.