The Poinsettia Connection to Christmas
Franciscan missionaries arrived in Mexico in the 16th century and began setting elaborate nativity scenes at Christmas. Holly, Europe’s favorite Christmas plant, was nowhere to be found for dioramas, but when missionaries saw the red and green colors of this local plant (which explodes in color every December) they knew they had the right choice Is.
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When an American diplomat named Joel Poinsett arrived in Mexico in the 1820s, those glittery leaves were already common in local churches at Christmas. Poinsett, a veteran US Congressman from Charleston, South Carolina, spoke six languages, dined with Russian tsars, served President James Madison as a secret agent protecting American business interests in South America, and also lived in Chile. Became a general. army for a short time.
Yet for all his exploits, Poinsett is best remembered as an amateur botanist who was fascinated by those red and green plants of Mexico. He sent some to Charleston, where people began growing them in their gardens. His notoriety grew under a variation of the name Poinset.
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For 100 years after the first transplants arrived in Charleston, it was nearly impossible to keep the delicate poinsettia alive in a pot. They were mainly sold as cut flowers.
“With these guys everything changed,” says Fred Clarke, who runs what may be the world’s only poinsettia library. He leads me to a large translucent white shed in a corner of the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, a little north of San Diego, California.
Each spring, Carlsbad’s famous flower fields transform into a fantasy of red, yellow and white buttercups. Clarke is the horticulturist tasked with growing and bringing those 80 million flowers to market, but it’s clear that her passion flourishes inside this shed.
“Here we are,” he enthuses as we enter. On a series of low, tiered shelves are dozens of potted poinsettias arranged chronologically according to their historical growth.
Clark doesn’t have a Joel Poinsett iteration sampler, but his timeline includes a close relative: the legendary St. Louis Red. It was the first mass-produced poinsettia, introduced in 1924 by Louis Bourdet of Missouri.
Long-stemmed and delicate, the St. Louis Red was primarily a cut flower. But a self-taught Southern California grower named Paul Eck began playing with the genetics of reds, growing cultivars with multi-colored leaves that didn’t mind growing in a greenhouse, and most importantly, could be grown in pots. Can be shipped in. ,
Following the lead of those early missionaries, AK began marketing the poinsettia as a “Christmas flower” and persuaded Hollywood to use it as a decoration in seasonal television specials. In fact, Eke’s son personally arranged for famed television presenter Johnny Carson to perform an extravaganza behind his desk every year. tonight show,
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For decades, the Eck family grew almost all of their poinsettias at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad. Today, poinsettias are grown primarily outside the United States, so the Eck family focuses on developing and patenting new cultivars. The results are proudly displayed at the Clarke Poinsettia Library.
As he guides me through the collection, Clark (who began working with the Eck family 42 years ago) lists the latest varieties. Among them is Flaming Sphere (1950), a flexible version that never caught on. C-1 (1968) was the first poinsettia capable of withstanding the rigors of transport. La Limo (1988) introduced the intense red color of today’s poinsettias. The Freedom family (1991) was the first with rounded elephant ear bracts instead of long, pointed ones. And Prestige (2002), known for its intense color and hardiness, is now the most popular poinsettia on the planet.
After visiting the flower shop, Clarke treated me to one of Flower Fields’ famous strawberry milkshakes. As we make our way to a small stall, he suddenly stops, turns towards the shed and its circle of red leaves. smile.
“These guys have come a long way,” he says.