The Christmas star: where it comes from, its spread
The poinsettia is an ornamental plant native to Mexico and Central America, which in the wild has the appearance of a bush and can reach 3 to 4 meters in height, while the specimens found on the market today are mostly sized hybrids suitable for home use. . The scientific name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, which is the most beautiful of the spurges. The Aztecs used it in ritual celebrations as a symbol of purity, and in these circumstances the Spanish conquerors who arrived in the 16th century knew it. But it was not until the 19th century that the poinsettia crossed the borders of its homeland, brought to the United States by Ambassador Joel Roberts Poinsett, who made it known and classified, and from which the name Poinsettia derives, with which it is also known, especially in English-speaking countries.
Legends about origin, association with Christmas and other curiosities
In Mexico, his homeland, Christmas Eve is attributed with the meaning of love for others and trust, hope and purity. There are several legends related to the birth of this plant. According to one of them, the poinsettia owes its intense red leaves to the fact that God, seeing it little appreciated by men, wanted to reward it by dyeing the leaves with his own blood and thus transforming it into a symbol of love and rebirth. tells the moving story of Lola, a very poor girl who, on Christmas Eve, having nothing to offer, despaired of not knowing how to show her devotion, when suddenly a voice, accompanied by an intense glow, told her to pick up some grass: this one, placed on the altar, it has grown into a beautiful plant with bright red stars instead of flowers. For this reason, in Mexico the poinsettia is called Flor de la Noche Santa, Flor de la Noche Buena, in France it is called the star of love and it is also given on Mother’s Day, in Peru and in Chile it is called the crown .of the Andes and burning leaf.
The flowering of the poinsettia, its cultivation needs
Contrary to what we are led to think, what appear to be the large red petals of the poinsettia flower are actually bracts, modified leaves that crown the actual flower which, like all Euphorbiaceae, is called a cyathium. . It is formed by a group of male flowers, reduced to stamens, small and greenish yellow around a female flower. The leaves are up to 15 cm long, while the entire inflorescence can be 30 cm. It is a non-rustic plant with a demanding cultivation, it needs a constant temperature between 16 and 22 °C, therefore in the warm temperate zones it can be grown outdoors; it can live even at lower temperatures, but it does not tolerate frost. It is a photoperiod plant since its life cycle is influenced by the amount of light it receives, Poinsettia flowering occurs during the winter period, when daylight hours are shorter. During this period, it should be fertilized fortnightly with phosphorus and potassium and watered every 2-3 days.
When the poinsettia’s flowering period is over, the plant loses its red bracts and often the other leaves as well, but there is no need to throw it away, because if it has good roots it can easily live all year round and bloom again. But you need to follow some precautions. First of all, it is advisable to prune it by cutting the stems by about 10 cm, being careful when handling it, since the plant and the latex that comes out of it have a certain toxicity. From the cut stems you can get cuttings, and then new seedlings. Place it indoors or outdoors, in a bright place, but protected from direct sunlight, ventilated, but not subject to drafts. The soil should be kept slightly moist, so it is necessary to water only when it is almost dry. From October, in view of flowering, the plant should be placed in a place where it can spend a good part of the day in the dark, about 15 hours, or it can be covered; but during the rest of the day the position should be sunny. In this way, our plant will encourage us again with its characteristic flowering.