Happy Poinsettia Day

The poinsettia is, arguably, the flower of Christmas.  Growing up, I remember my mother always having at least one or two during the holiday season.  For several years, in an effort to force the plants to bloom again in December, she painstakingly followed directions that included keeping the poinsettia in total darkness (also known as my bedroom closet!) for a few weeks.  I don’t remember that her efforts ever paid off with much more than a leggy plant and a spindly flower, which may explain why I haven’t always been a huge fan of the poinsettia.poinsettiasI guess I’m coming around, though, because here in the Upstate of the Carolinas, the poinsettia is a pretty big deal.  225px-JRP-SoW,_SYou see, it was Joel Roberts Poinsett (1770-1851),  who had a summer home here that first brought the flower to the United States.joel r poinsett greenville daily photoJoel Poinsett sculpture, downtown Greenville, SC
Trained as a physician, Poinsett was a congressman, the Secretary of War under President Martin Van Buren, and a cofounder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts (a forerunner of the Smithsonian Institution).poinsett hand      detail
He also served as the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, which is where he studied the native poinsettia and determined to introduce it to South Carolina.  An amateur botanist, Poinsett was successful, and the flower is no longer considered a rare and exotic hothouse bloom. 
Poinsett’s legacy lives on in other ways, as well.
poinsett bridgeAbove is the Poinsett Bridge, near Travelers Rest. Built in 1820, the stone bridge was part of a road from Columbia to Saluda Mountain.  Named to the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge is part of a 120 acre preserve.
poinsett club The Poinsett Club is the Upstate’s finest private club, home to the season’s Debutante Ball as well as wedding receptions, private parties, and charity events.  The crab cakes are amazing, and the corn sticks are legendary.wes1255ex.18090_md  The Poinsett Hotel is a terrific place to stay, should you happen to be in the area.  It is now a Westin property, and it was used in several shots in the George Clooney/Renee Zellweger film Leatherheads several years ago.poinsettia parade  This time of year, it’s the annual Poinsettia Christmas Parade that brings Santa Claus to town.

Poinsettias growing in the wild in Mexico and South America tend to grow as leggy shrubs, often preferring steep terrain.  It was the Eckes family of southern California, who through hybridization, created the bushy, long-lasting flower that we associate with Christmas here in the United States.  The Eckes family continues to be the largest commercial grower of the poinsettia.  No doubt, you’ve seen poinsettias in different colors, spangled with glitter, marbled and mottled; I’m not sure who deserves the credit for those atrocities, but I can’t imagine Mr. Poinsett would be pleased.
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Still, today we celebrate Poinsettia Day, and I may have to add a small one to the T&C house.  I found this photo on the Southern Living website, and I think I could do something similar but smaller with a little fern and ivy and a small poinsettia.  It might be a fun way to offer a bit of history to Big, Middle, and Little.

And to honor Mr. Poinsett, of course.
Do you decorate with poinsettias?

11 comments:

  1. Fabulous history lesson! I love pointsettias. The white and pink ones are my favorites!

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  2. Christmas was never complete without my mother's menagerie of red pointsetias. I never knew the history of the "Christmas" flower. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  3. What a lovely historical piece Miss Paula! I agree with your characterization of the aforementioned atrocities, they are an assault to the senses.

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  4. How interesting!
    My dad is the only person I know to get a pointsettia to bloom twice! But then he doesnt have much else to do lol

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  5. The Paul Eckes ranch is where we get the poinsettias for work. They are incredible especially the huge ones. I never knew all the history behind the flower except they had a Mexican connection. You learn something new every day. :)

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  6. We sold them as a fundraiser for the baseball team for years...so my feelings about them have to do with a lot of work right when I really don't have time to be messing with them...but they are beautiful and fill up space and make things look festive.

    They also grow along side the road in a couple of places in Maui--we've seen them on the way to Haleakala.

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  7. Jackson is studying about them in his third grade South Carolina history class... He was very impressed with your post!

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  8. Thank you for the great education! I love poinsettias!

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  9. I never knew this history behind the poinsettia - thanks for sharing. I missed the chance to order ours from our 8th graders raising funds for their school trip. I'll need to get some at the store, b/c I love to decorate with them during the holidays - both red and white.

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  10. I love this post, fascinating! Who knew? My mother loved pointsettias too, but we have not had them for years since they can be (or are?) poison to cats. My husband, however, thought we needed to have some this year since he saw them on sale! So now they are locked in the living/dining room & my daughter gets hysterical everytime the door is open thinking that it is instant death to the cat.
    Ho ho ho,
    Colleen

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  11. How interesting about Mr. Poinsett! A huge gap in my education. I'm so happy to know the history...I do love poinsettias of the white and red variety...but yes, I think I'll pass on the paint splattered ones! That last photo is lovely. I wouldn't mind trying an arrangement like that!

    H.H.

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