My Obsession with Poinsettias – Christmas Story One

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How it all started

My obsession with Poinsettias started as a child. Each Christmas season the altar at church was beautifully decorated with the brilliant red blossoms. They seemed exotic to me because they were so unlike any of the flowers that grew in our garden.

The church we attended celebrated Advent with gusto. It was a small Church of the Brethern and the members were truly like family. We started advent with a party; cookies, sandwiches, and punch. All my church friends were there. And after a short, sweet service in the evening when we lit the first advent candle, we all decorated the church. The celebration was called the Hanging of the Greens.

Now days it seems the decorating is done behind the scenes, appearing the first Sunday without much fanfare. Not every church celebrates this time of year with the lighting of the candles, although I think they should. But I have never been to a church yet who didn’t have poinsettias decorating the sanctuary. I guess we are all a little obsessed and believe it isn’t Christmas unless Poinsettias appears at the altar of the church. 

As a child on Christmas Eve we took a plant or two home with us. I later learned it was because everyone donated the Poinsettias. My Mother then used them for the family Christmas dinner that she hosted. There were poinsettias on the tables we set up to accommodate all the guests.

I always wanted to have a Poinsettia bloom again

My first home as an adult was in Florida. I would pick a Poinsettia up from Publix when I shopped and kept it in the house until after Christmas. Then I would place it in the screen patio with all my other plants and hope it would last through the year and bloom yet again next Christmas. That never happened, even though I tried year after year.

Poinsettias are native to the coastal region of central Mexico. And while visiting family in southern California I discovered that they often grow in people’s gardens. The plant thrives in temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit but can survive temperatures as low as 50 degrees. The coastal areas of California is similar to their original habitat. My sister-in-law had one near her front porch that was at least 10 feet tall. She said it bloomed every year.

When I heard that, I was filled with envy.

A Legend

There is a 16th Mexican  legend that associates the Poinsettias with Christmas. I first heard about it when I stumbled across a book by Tomie dePaola, one of my favorite children’s book illustrators. DePaola also writes the books he Illustrates. I found his book in my son’s scholastic magazine book order form. It is called The Legend of the Poinsettia.  

The The Legend of the Poinsettia is a story of a humble young girl named Lucida, who had no gift to leave at the altar on Christmas Eve. There was a custom to bring gifts to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Discouraged, Lucida stayed outside the church until she encountered an Angel who encouraged her to pick some weeds by the roadside for her gift. When she brought the weeds to the altar to give to the Christ child, the flowers miraculously turned a brilliant red.

I love stories of miracles. The legend made me love Poinsettias even more. We could all use a Christmas miracle or two, couldn’t we?

The poinsettia is called The Flower of the Holy Night. Some say the shape of the leave are like the star of Bethlehem. The red coloring stands for the blood of Christ. When the plant is white it is symbolic of his purity.

From Legend to Tradition

The person responsible for introducing poinsettias to the US is a man named Joel Roberts Poinsett. As  the first Ambassador from the USA to Mexico in 1825, he sent plants back to his plantation in South Carolina. He then grew Poinsettias in his greenhouses. These plants were often shared with friends and family. He also sent some of his specimens to Botanical Gardens.

In 1828 Poinsett sent a plant to a friend in Philadelphia. John Bartram is credited for introducing the plant to gardeners in the US at the Bartram Botanic Garden. From there Poinsettias were first sold by Robert Buist of Pennsylvania. He sold them as cut flowers. Later the Ecke family from Southern California began to cultivate Poinsettias to sell as whole plants. The family became the largest producer of the plants in the US. After selling Poinsettias for over 100 years the family sold the business in 2012. This was due in part to the increased demand for the flowers. Many infrastructure changes were needed to keep up with the demand. Now the family is trusting the new owners will take the business to a higher level of production.

The increased demand indicates to me that nearly everyone is obsessed with this holiday plant. And while I recently took a tour of my favorite local garden center, I saw not only an abundance of Poinsettia for sale but also the wide variety of colors that are available today. There is a magnificent display in their greenhouse which I photographed for you.

My Obsession with Poinsettias
My Obsession with Poinsettias
My Obsession with Poinsettias
My Obsession with Poinsettias
My Obsession with Poinsettias
My Obsession with Poinsettias

A Success Story.

I celebrate the Holidays with Cathie, often in their beautiful home. She is part of my extended family. Cathie is a wonderful cook, and she has a beautiful garden. This thanksgiving I was out on her patio photographing her flowers and my son Sean asked me,

“Did you see the Poinsettias?”

No, I hadn’t and I quickly came over to where he was standing.

“Is this from last year?” I inquired.

“Yes, and it is blooming! Ask Cathie about it.”

Which I did. Cathie said she tries every year to get them to bloom and this year it worked. She explained after Christmas all the leaves fell off the plant and she placed it outdoors on the patio. Eventually as it got warmer tiny leaves came out. Through the summer it flourished and because quite a handsome green bush. A few weeks ago, the leaves started to show a little red. Each day they have become redder.

“I know I am supposed to put them in a closet at night and make sure they get 14 hours of darkness, but I haven’t.” she explained. “Next week when the temperature is expected to drop, I will bring it in, and maybe then, I will place it in a closet at night.”

I told her if this was the one, she had by the fireplace in the living room last Christmas then, I have a photograph of it. It would be fun to compare them. She thought it was the one by the fireplace. So, here are the photos.

Cathie’s Poinsettia December 2019

Cathie’s Poinsettia November 2020

Cathie’s secret to success? She explains,

“I didn’t do a thing except when it died back, I didn’t throw it out. I just placed it on the patio.”

OK. I admit, I have a little bit of Poinsettia envy here.

Biz News

The Holiday Shop at Ruthieonart

The Holiday Shop at Ruthieonart will be open now through January 6, 2021.

For those of you who read my blog or are on my email list, the 4 Day Holiday Sale in my Etsy Shop will continue from Sunday, November 29th to Tuesday December 2nd. There is 20% OFF your purchase with no minimum order and shipping is FREE. Use the code THELIST20.

In The Shop use the code JBGP6TZ2 to receive 20% OFF your purchase with no minimum order and FREE shipping.

The New Items added to the the shop this week are  original watercolors: Chili Peppers, Poinsettia, a Christmas Wreath, and Crotons.

Thank you for being a part of my Holiday Season and as always Be Inspired!


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