By Carla Land
Did you know there is a flower so special to the heart of the USA that Congress set aside a day to honor its contributions to the nation? The beautiful poinsettia brightens up our holidays and brings color and personality to our Christmas season.
The Poinsettia is one of the few flowers of North America that can claim it has it's own special day thanks to Joel Roberts Poinsett, the United State's first Ambassador to Mexico. It is Roberts who is credited for bringing this beautiful traditional Christmas gift to our annual Christmas season, a tradition that has endured the test of time.
Here is how it happened:
Poinsett was on a diplomatic mission to Taxco, Mexico. The year was 1828. Admiring the tropical environment, he became entranced with the plant's beauty, its medicinal value, and its artistic applications by the native people of the region. So enamored, in fact, was the good ambassador that he brought back a number of cuttings of the native plants to the United States.
Before long the plant proved to have a major impact on not only Christmas tradition in the states but also for the agriculture industry for many years to come. Because of its important role in the celebration of Christmas and its beautification to North America's annual holiday, by an act of Congress, December 12th each year has been set aside as National Poinsettia Day, to honor the passing of Joel Roberts Poinsett and his contribution to a charming and beautiful holiday tradition.
The good Ambassador would be amazed at what started as simple cuttings from Mexico have become. According to USDA, poinsettias are the number one potted plant grown in the nation.
The demand on poinsettias has grown so much that a few years ago Floridians were disappointed after the state's poinsettia crop suffered a major setback. Some 70% of it's crop was lost following a tragic hurricane season. The impact was felt nationwide as Florida was the largest producer of the decorative plant. These days Texas poinsettia producers sell about 4 million plants per year out of the 50 million sold across the nation, making the Lone Star State one of the top 10 producers in the nation. And Texans love to buy Texas poinsettias, spending more than 15 million dollars annually on the stunning plant.
The Texas poinsettia industry is certainly strong and growing with over 74 producers across the state.
While commercially producing poinsettias can be a temperamental affair because of weather and climate, most are grown in greenhouses where the environment is better controlled. Places like deep South Texas have an advantage with its warmer winter climate, where plants can grow into shrubs up to 5 to 6 ft. tall, making a spectacular display in many South Texas neighborhoods.
The state poinsettia industry keeps things interesting as well, bringing in new varieties each Christmas season that amaze and delight fans.
Even though the red poinsettia is the most frequently sold, colors can range from creamy white through shades of pink to orange and burgundy. Some poinsettias can be found with marbled bracts of pink and white as well as those with pink flecks on red. With names like Jingle Bells and Plum Puddin, how could they not put you in a festive mood!
While the poinsettia has become the classic Christmas plant, the U.S. agriculture industry is trying to expand it's year round appeal. Creative growers and retailers are using an ethanol-based dye to turn the traditional Yuletide plant into a year-round moneymaker. Shades of orange and bronze transform the poinsettia into a fall flower, perfect for Halloween or Thanksgiving festivities. A poinsettia in hues of blue, coupled with red and white flowers, becomes the star of a patriotic arrangement. Sprayed green, it makes the Irish smile on St. Patrick's Day. And tinted in your favorite pastel color, and perhaps with a touch of glitter, the popular potted plant is suitable for weddings or as a centerpiece for anniversaries, birthdays, showers, and other occasions. Growers hope to expand their profits and give the poinsettia a longer life than the short lived life of the traditional red Christmas poinsettia.
Despite their beauty they do require care and careful selection of the right plant from the start, which will make that task easier. According to Deborah Frost, a county horticulture agent for the Texas Cooperative Extension Service, there should be lots of healthy green leaves on a healthy plant and the bracts — which people mistakenly call blooms — should be big and healthy.
Watering mistakes seem to be the most common problem with the plant. A frost means the soil should be kept moist, and plants should be taken out of the wrappings or baskets they come in and put into the sink to be watered. That way, the plants are thoroughly watered, left to drain in the sink, then returned to their wrappings, avoiding root rot, which comes from leaving pots in standing water. Also avoid getting water on the leaves.
Temperature is the second most fatal mistake with these plants.-Keep the temperature near 60 degrees at night and near 72 degrees during the day. High humidity is preferable. Avoid cold drafts and protect your poinsettia from cold winds.
For more helpful information on acquiring poinsettias and their care you can go online to Ellisons Green Houses. This is one of Texas premiere poinsettia growers having been voted 2002 Grower of the Year by Greenhouse Grower Magazine. They also hold an annual poinsettia festival annually in November that is growing in popularity every year.
A lot of communities across the state honor the poinsettia. In Mission every other year each bank and municipal building in town are landscaped with thousands of poinsettias. Mission is home to the National Poinsettia Growers Association.
In Big Spring Texas, their annual "Poinsettias in the Park" celebration is set for December 1-January 1 and honors the poinsettia. The Big Spring State Park has a 200 foot bluff where they have six large metal poinsettias and a 10 ft. tall star wrapped in Christmas lights, an enchanting way to emblazon the story of the poinsettia.
Perhaps even more enchanting than the beauty of the poinsettia is it's legend. The story goes that a little girl in Mexico was on her way to Christmas Mass and was feeling sad because she had no gift to give the baby Jesus. Her cousin encouraged her to give a humble gift and so the little girl began to gather weeds she found along the road. As she approached the altar a miracle happened and the weeds blossomed into beautiful flowers. They were called Flores de Noche Buena - The flowers of the Holy Night. Today we call them poinsettias.
With such history and beauty. No wonder we have a National Poinsettia Day!