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Poinsettia has place in history, holiday season

More than any other plant, the poinsettia has become almost synonymous with Christmas.

Legend has it that on a Christmas Eve long ago, a little Mexican girl wanted more than anything to present a fine gift to the Christ child at the church service that evening.

Being poor, she had only a bouquet of common roadside weeds. As she approached the altar, a miracle happened -- the weeds burst into beautiful blooms.

They were called Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night). We call them poinsettias.

While the poinsettia remains a symbol of Christmas in many parts of the world, it was actually cultivated in Mexico by the Aztecs long before Christianity came to the Western Hemisphere. The plant was called Cuetlaxochitl by the Indians and was prized for its brilliant color.

Poinsettias were first introduced into the U. S. in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett, then U. S. Ambassador to Mexico. Since that time, careful selection and breeding has led to the development of much-improved varieties.

Plant breeders have been successful in developing sturdier plants, now grown in many sizes and containers. Although red remains the most popular color, white, pink and variegated varieties are also available.

To increase the life of poinsettias indoors, place the plant in a room with as much natural light as possible. Avoid placing the plant in drafts or near heat from appliances, radiators or heating ducts.

Optimum daytime temperatures are 70 degrees to 75 degrees; nighttime temperatures should not be allowed to drop below 55 degrees. To avoid breakage, select a place for the plant out of the way of children and pets.

Place the plant in a waterproof container or saucer to protect floors and furniture.

Water thoroughly when the soil is dry to the touch; discard excess water. Plants properly cared for should last several weeks or longer.

Web posted on Thursday, December 03, 2009

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