by Charlene Burgi
I woke up to a winter wonderland this week. The ground was covered with a thick blanket of snow, and the juniper trees looked as if Betty Crocker magically decorated each one in globs of gooey white frosting. Birds of all types flitted through the dark gray skies, waiting for us to fill their feeders so they could eat before it began snowing again. Looking out the window was like looking at a Thomas Kinkade painting.
Despite the beauty outside, the dark skies and equally dark news coming from across our nation made the surroundings feel less than cheerful. As I looked around our home, my eyes fell on a bright spot. Jack had brought home a lovely poinsettia that graced the dining room table and drew me to past memories of carrying these plants in our nursery.
At that time, poinsettias only came in red or white—unlike the present pinks or variegated varieties of white, pinks and reds currently available. I remembered we kept them inside the office since Marin’s cold weather would cause these southern Mexico natives to shrivel. I also remembered these plants grew in very dry conditions and did not take kindly to sitting in a lot of water or frequent watering. I recalled erroneously warning people that the poinsettia was poisonous, and to keep the plant elevated so little ones could not be tempted by the beautiful leaves and bracts. Since then, I learned that the Aztecs used the flowers to make red dye. The milky white substance found in the red bracts was used to cure high fevers.
Curiosity found me digging deeper into the history of this plant. In the early 1800s, President John Adams appointed Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett as our first U.S. Minister to Mexico. Dr. Poinsett was a botanist at heart and sent plants home to his greenhouses in South Carolina. Soon the species was being given as a gift. The rest is pretty easy to figure out—where the plant got its name and how this beauty found its way across the lands. Two pieces of trivia that I learned in my studies you might find interesting:
- There is actually a National Poinsettia Day on December 12; and
- Dr. Poinsett was the co-founder of the National Institute for Promotion of Science and Useful Arts—the predecessor of the Smithsonian Institute.
I leave the legend found in the title up to you for further research about this beautiful bright spot that brought joy into my heart on a dreary day.