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History of The Poinsettia: – Flor De La Noche Buena
This article was written for CraftyChica.com by Natalie Anniston of flowerdelivery.net, which is a site that is dedicated to be an online flower delivery resource.
An integral aspect of Christmas holiday tradition worldwide, the poinsettia, or noche beuna, plant has a rich and interesting history. A shrub that grows to a height between 2 and 16 feet, the poinsettia plant grows wild in tropical forests down the Pacific coast of Mexico to Guatemala and Chiapas. There are over 100 varieties of poinsettia plants, and its scientific name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, which translated literally means, the most beautiful Euphorbia.
In its earliest recorded history, the poinsettia plant was used by the Aztec nation. The Aztecs called the poinsettia Cuitlaxochitl, and used the flower to produce a red dye, and as a fever reduction medication.
The plant wasn’t associated with the Christmas tradition until the 16th century in Mexico. It is told that a young girl who was too poor to afford a gift for Jesus’ birthday was visited by an angel. This angel told the girl to collect grasses and weeds by the side of the road, and put them in front of the altar at the village church. Upon doing this, deep red blossoms are said to have sprouted from the weeds, which transformed into immaculate poinsettia flowers. The parable tells that the red color of the poinsettia blossom represented the blood from Jesus’ crucifixion, and the star shape of the leaf represented the star of Bethlehem.
The story of the young girl and the poinsettia inspired Mexican Franciscan friars to incorporate the poinsettia flower into Christmas tradition in the 17th century, in which it has played a role ever since.
Introduction to the United States
It was not until 1828 that la noche buena was introduced to the United States. The first United States ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, because fascinated by the noche buena shrub in a visit to the Taxco area. Although a politician by profession, Poinsett’s true passion was in botany. He brought some of the plants back to South Carolina with him, where he began cultivating them, and sending them to friends and to botanical gardens. In fact, the name poinsettia was derived the Joel Roberts Poinsett’s last name in 1836. Eventually the poinsettia plant found its way to Robert Buist, a nursery owner from Pennsylvania. Buist gave the poinsettia plant its first commercial introduction.
The Ecke Family
Albert Ecke was a German immigrant living in Los Angeles, who became interested in the noche buena around the year 1900. Ecke began selling poinsettia blossoms on street corners, and started what was to become a poinsettia monopoly. Albert Ecke’s son, Paul Ecke, engineered a technological secret that eliminated competition in the poinsettia blossom market. By grafting two varieties of poinsettias together, Ecke created a poinsettia plant that was fuller and denser, and that had never before seen large and beautiful blossoms.
Despite this new grafting technique, it was not until Paul Ecke’s son, Paul Ecke Jr., that the Ecke family enterprise expanded and caused a poinsettia proliferation in the United States. Ecke Jr.’s company began shipping orders by train and air throughout the United States. They also mailed free noche buena plants to television station for display between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Paul Ecke Jr. appeared on Bob Hope’s Christmas special, as well as The Tonight Show to promote the plants.
During the 1990s, the Ecke family grafting secret was discovered by researchers, and the Eckes’ monopoly diminished. As of 2008, however, the Ecke family still controlled 50% of poinsettia sales worldwide. The poinsettia, or la noche buena, plant remains a celebrated Christian tradition. Originating in Mexico and Latin America, the poinsettia Christmas tradition spread to the United States and to much of the Christian world. Countless individuals celebrate the holiday tradition by having poinsettias delivered to their homes by a flower delivery service.