Poinsettia Day

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Today is Poinsettia Day.

The date was chosen to mark the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, an American botanist, posted as an ambassador to Mexico in the early 19th century. One day, while walking through the Mexican countryside in the search for new plants, he found the beautiful poinsettia and sent cuttings of the  shrub to North America.

However, the poinsettia was given its botanical name by a brilliant German botanist called Carl Ludwig Willdenow. He worked as the director of the gardens in Berlin which developed into the Berlin Botanical Garden (one of the most important botanical gardens in the world, which I must visit one day!). Willdenow taught botany at the University of Berlin and he also sorted and categorized many of the plant samples brought back from South America by Alexander von Humboldt. His extensive herbarium can be seen in the museum attached to the botanical gardens.

Anyway, back to the poinsettias!

The wild ones grow to several metres, and I recently saw these wonderful photos on this blog site: earthstonestation.wordpress.com

My mother was amazed when she saw them up to 2 or 3 metres tall in gardens in New South Wales, Australia. Here in Europe we hardly ever see them bigger than mine above!

I have only once successfully got one through a whole year for the following winter, but despite covering it up for 12 hours at night, and giving it as much light as possible in the daytime, the bracts remained green. I think the ones we find in our shops have been cultivated to look wonderful for about 6 weeks, and then die!

In Germany they are simply called “Christmas Stars” (Weihnachtsstern), which I think is a lovely name. They certainly add cheer at this time of year, and I can’t imagine Christmas without them. Can you?