Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy New Year

It is time to take down the Christmas Decorations for another year.

Wishing you a very happy, healthy and properous 2009!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Poinsettia

The Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a winter flowering native shrub of the southern and central areas of Mexico, around Taxco del Alarcon and was a significant plant in Aztec society; not only revered as the purest plant of all because of its vibrant colouring, but used in many practical ways too, from a dye used in making textiles and cosmetics for body painting, to a cure for fevers. It was an important part of everyday life and was known as ‘Cuetlaxochitl’. It is recorded that the Aztec Emperor Nezahualcoyotl (1402 – 1472) created gardens for them, and legend has it that when the Aztecs initiated their conquest of southern territories, the spilled blood of their sacrificed captives to fell mother earth gave raise to the origin to this flower.

The botanical Latin name of Euphorbia pulcherrima was given to the plant by a German botanist Wilenow ‘pulcherrima’ meaning ‘very beautiful’. What we consider as very striking red flowers are in fact bracts, and the flowers at the centre are insignificant. Many different forms are available in modern cultivation, and the colours range from almost pure whites, through lemon, pink, plum and scarlet to interesting marbled and variegated plants.

In 1828, Joel Roberts Poinsett, a doctor, botanist and politician and then first Ambassador to Mexico, is credited with having introduced the Poinsettia to the United States and its common name is derived from his last name to honour him. It quickly gained popularity and was soon in commercial cultivations.

So how did the Poinsettia become popular at Christmas? It’s first obvious connection is that it is winter flowering, but more importantly, during the Spanish Conquests of South America, and specifically in Mexico, Franciscan missionaries sought to introduce Christianity to the native Aztec Indians, and decorated Nativity Crib scenes with the bright red flowers; the symbolism in Aztec culture of the purest flower, and their deeply ingrained use in every day life was a perfect metaphor that the monks could use to entwine Christian traditions with local customs to gain their acceptance and spread the word of the Bible.

A lovely legend exists in Mexico as to how the Poinsettia came to have bright red flowers. A young girl Perpita, was walking to church with her cousin Pedro, and was troubled by the fact that she did not have a gift to lay at the Crib of the new born Jesus. Pedro told her, that no matter how humble the gift, provided that it was given with love any gift would be acceptable in the eyes of Christ. She gathered a bunch of weeds from the roadside and arranged them carefully them into a posy, feeling very sad and humbled that she hadn’t anything better to offer. Tearfully she entered the small chapel, and remembering Pedro’s words knelt at the Altar and offered her small gift. Miraculously, they turned into a bouquet of vibrant red Poinsettia blooms, and all who saw this transformation believed they had witnessed a Miracle. In Mexico, the flower is known today as ‘Flores del Noche Buena’; ‘Flower of the Holy Night’ as they bloom each winter at Christmas time.