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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

F is for Flowers

Saturday, November 11, 2023

F is for Flowers is the sixth post in a special series about Christmas traditions from A to Z that add sparkle, love, laughter, beauty, comfort, nostalgia, meaning, and joy to the Christmas season. Christmas is a time when our homes are the most festive in the year, often with exterior as well as interior decorations. And, flowers are one the most traditional forms for Christmas decorations. 

is for Flowers.

Poinsettias are sometimes called the official Christmas flower. The plant is native to Mexico and in the 17th century was first used for Christmas by Franciscan monks in Nativity processions in the town of Taxco de Alarcon.

Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist from South Carolina, visited Mexico on a diplomatic mission in 1828. As a botanist he was intrigued with the unfamiliar plant's red leaves. He shipped some plants back to his home to grow and cultivate in his greenhouse and gave the flowers to friends around Christmas time. 

Soon news of this unfamiliar plant with bright red leaves spread. Robert Buist, a nurseryman in Pennsylvania, started cultivating the plant and was the first person in the United States to sell the plant commercially under its botanical name, Euphorbia Pulcherrima. 

In 1836, the plant was called Poinsettia after Joel Roberts Poinsett who first brought the plant to the United States.  

Poinsettias are the most popular plants sold in the United States during the Christmas season with about 70 million plants sold each year. 

Poinsettia blooms are not the brightly colored leaves at the top of the plants. The plant has both green and colored leaves. Many people think the colored leaves are the blooms. 

Instead the true blooms are the cluster of multiple small yellow blossoms surrounded by the colored leaves. When buying poinsettia plants look for the plants with the tiny yellow blossoms tightly closed as buds. They will stay fresh longer than plants that have fully opened blossoms. 

The original color of poinsettia colored leaves is red. Over the years, nurseries have cultivated several other colors of poinsettia leaves, as well as variegated varieties. White and variegated pale pink are two of my favorite poinsettia colors.  More and more variegated varieties appear each Christmas season, but the original red appears to be the most popular traditional color. 

Poinsettia plants are favorite Christmas flowers for their beauty and for their longevity. If I buy plants with the true small flowers as buds, the plants look beautiful long past Christmas. Keep the plants watered, but not overwatered, away from direct sunlight, and out of direct drafts, especially forced air from central heating systems. With good care, poinsettias will look beautiful as late as February.