Poinsettia is a common name of Euphorbia pulcherrima, a species of flowering plant indigenous to Mexico and Guatemala. The name ‘poinsettia’ is after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the US in 1828.
Poinsettia is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6 to 4 m. The plant bears dark green dentate leaves that measure 7 to 16 cm in length. The colored bracts – which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white or marbled – are actually leaves. Because of their groupings and colors, people often think these are the flower petals of the plant. In fact, the flowers are grouped within the small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch.
As this is a subtropical plant, it will likely perish if the night-time temperature falls below 10°C so is not suitable for planting in the ground in cooler climates. Likewise, daytime temperatures in excess of 21°C tend to shorten the lifespan of the plant.
The plants’ association with Christmas began in 16th century, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson “blossoms” sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.
A poinsettia cocktail is a mixture of dry sparkling white wine, vodka, and cranberry juice.
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