Next Sunday is officially Poinsettia Day, but let’s start celebrating early.
Named – in English – for Joel Poinsett, ambassador to Mexico who found it there in the 1820’s, it’s a native called ‘Noche Buena,’ or Christmas Eve. In Latin it’s euphorbia pulcherrima, which I’m guessing means most beautiful euphorbia. It is naturally a weedy shrub, but growers have turned it into a holiday flower.
Like bougainvillea, its apparent flower is actually bracts (leaves). They need bright daylight, but also 12 hours of dark to turn that fabulous color, which is why we have them in winter.
They are not, btw, repeat not, poisonous. Some people may be allergic, and eating the leaves might give you diarrhea, but then so might grass. Experiments have proved that a 100-pound person could eat a 1000 leaves and still not have reached a toxic level. I have no clue how they conducted such an experiment.
A man named Albert Ecke came to Los Angeles from Germany in 1900 and became a farmer. Along the way he discovered poinsettias and started selling them from flower stands on street corners at Christmas. His son Paul carried on the business and he figured out how to graft two or more plants together to create an appealingly full plant. Then Albert’s grandson, Paul Jr., got business really booming – he sent free plants to television stations early in the season and soon poinsettia decor became the thing to do at Christmas.
Curiously, nobody else could figure out how the Eckes produced their gorgeous plants and for decades they had a complete monopoly on the poinsettia business, which must have made them very happy.
But in the 1990s, a researcher figured it out and the good times were over. South American flower growers began to produce poinsettias more cheaply due to labor costs. The Eckes gave up all their American farms and now also produce in South America. And they have been reduced to a mere 70% of the market.