Poinsettias! A Christmas Story

From Martha Stewart, 14 different types of poinsettias: snowcap white, da vinci, puebla, marble star, maren, enduring pink, monet, plum pudding, cortez burgundy, jingle bells, winter rose pink, strawberries ‘n cream, freedom red, and holly point.

Poinsettias first caught my eye in high school, under rather extraordinary circumstances.

My parents made a decision completely out of character for them, casting off conservative, low-risk postures and packing my sister and I into a Volkswagen bug to drive over 3,000 miles, and 6200 feet in elevation from Central New York State to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. We lived in San Miguel for a year while my dad (an art teacher) earned his MFA at The Instituto de Allende. The variation in cost of living was the only manner in which a teacher could support a family on half-salary on sabbatical; so we headed South.

La Parochia in San Miguel de Allende, the starting point of The Mexican Revolution

When I first laid eyes on poinsettias in San Miguel, it took me more than a few moments to process what I was seeing – I had never looked up at Poinsettias before…sometimes it just takes seeing something familiar through a new lens to spark creativity – but first some history….

Poinsettia tree – this image from gardenofeden blogspot

The poinsettia originated in the south of Mexico, its cultivation credited to Joel Roberts Poinsett, which is allot like crediting the discovery of America to Columbus, when millions of indigenous peoples had called this place home for eons; the plant was already well-known to the Aztecs, who called it cuetlaxochitl. From the 14th-century to the 16th, the Aztecs used the sap medicinally to suppress fevers, and the leaves to make dye which survives in certain artistic representations today.

Born around 1779 in Charleston South Carolina, Poinsett became a member of South Carolina’s House of Representatives and held several prominent political posts before founding of the Smithsonian Institution.

President John Quincy Adams appointed Poinsett to the post of first United States Ambassador to Mexico and anointed him with the unenviable directive of offering the Mexican government a million dollars to acquire the tract of land we know today as Texas. The offer did not bode well with the Mexicans who not only refused, but surreptitiously ejected Poinsett from the country.

An amateur botanist, Poinsett turned to botanical rather than political pursuits. He shipped samples of the plant to South Carolina, where it was christened the “Mexican fire Plant”. But in Mexico, almost everything has a fable attached – and Poinsettias are no exception…

triple-potted poinsettias

Once upon a time, a little boy was walking to church to see the Christmas Nativity scene. The boy was too poor to offer a ceremonial gift to the Christ child but he placed his faith in the fact that the Christ child would overlook this short-coming since he had been after all,  the son of a poor carpenter. After looking in earnest, the boy gathered some branches that lay at the side of the road, and placed his belief in the power of the gift given with love.

When the boy reached the church, the people already seated turned to see what gift he would bestow at the manger. Upon seeing the bare branches, they all laughed at him. Undeterred, the little boy trudged up to the altar and laid the branches by the edge of the manger, whereupon they burst into blooms of bright red flowers.

The historical version is less colorful – upon his return to the U.S., Poinsett cultivated the plant and introduced it to botanical gardens worldwide. By the mid 1800’s the plant had become known as the poinsettia.

green, pink and white

Poinsettias have come a long way in terms of variation and selection since catching Poinsett’s eye. These fantastic pops of color and beautiful organic contributions to  elegantly simplistic holiday decor.

Burgundy poinsettias

In addition to the wide range of natural selections, botanists have taken some creative license in adding variety to this holiday favorite. The images above and below are all selections for under $15 that I photographed at my local grocer, and provide more than ample inspiration for holiday table and display stories for your entertaining and intimate family celebrations.

fiery red-orange

To add a bit of sparkle, you can lightly spray the top aspect of the poinsettia leaves, and dust with some super-fine glitter – just remember not to spray underneath the leaves. Like most plants, poinsettias breathe from the under-side of their leaves.

hot fuschia

The variegated varieties provide not only variation but depth of color and pattern that create the perfect partner for vintage ornaments.

corregated soft pink

The new dyed varieties offer great potential for styling, and the dusting of fine silver and gold glitter are an invitation to Christmas tree lighting to sparkle.

parakeet blues

The introduction of colored dyes to the root systems createsw a stunning array that mimics the colors of parakeets…

lavender blue-gray

This red variety is dappled with what looks like soft yellow paint spatters….

paint splattered

The soft pink and peach varieties not only mix well with the hotter pinks but also look amazing with other Christmas-themed flowers, like the star hydrangea, amaryllis, and paper flowers.

mixed with star hydrangea

Poinsettias style beautifully, without accepting that holiday invitation to go broke! Try grouping as a collection in glass vases of varying heights.

House and Garden

Mini-poinsettias are gorgeous when fashioned into a living wreath.

mini-poinsettias – image via hortes.ee.com

Don’t hesitate to go out into the yard and gather some winter berries or rose hips to add to your display at no cost…

apricot poinsettias and winter berries

Pick up the tempo of your holiday decor by displaying poinsettias in unexpected ways…

Why not try filling a magazine stand with Poinsettias? This red acrylic one would look amazing filled with Variegated Red and Fuchsia Poinsettias near your favorite accent chair…

In an entry or foyer start with a focal piece like this icy blue lamp (below). Get a rustic bushel basket with wood slats. Turn an inexpensive glass calendar vase up-side down in the center of the basket that comes level with the basket sides. Surround the inverted vase with blue poinsettias, and place the lamp in the center of the inverted vase to cast down-light on the poinsettias – stunning!

Just use an element in the same color as your poinsettias that seems unexpected used in a display and invent your own poinsettia display!

21 Days to Christmas…get decorating!