Blooming Through the Ages

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The Christmas holiday season is often marked by the vibrant poinsettia plant that graces homes, churches, and offices across the world.

The plant blooms only for a few weeks in November and December but remains one of the best-selling flowers worldwide, especially in the US where the market was worth an estimated $153 million in 2020.

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations understood why, Axios reported.

In the 14th century, the Aztecs used the plant for warrior rituals and dyes, while employing its latex sap to treat wounds and fevers. Prior to European colonization, the Aztecs called the bloom “leather flower,” while the Maya civilization dubbed it the “fire flower.”

It was after the arrival of Spanish settlers in the 16th century that the flower became associated with the Christmas season. Colonizers would use the flower – then known as the “Christmas eve flower” – to decorate nativity scenes and attract more people to Christianity.

In 1825, the United States appointed Joel Robert Poinsett as its ambassador to Mexico, four years after Mexico gained independence from Spain. Poinsett – also a botanist – admired the flower and sent some samples to his friends.

One of the samples eventually ended up in the Philadelphia Botanic Garden and slowly became known throughout the US and Europe as “poinsettia.”

A century later, the Ecke family patented the flower and mass-marketed it as the “California Christmas flower.”

But the Eckes’ move has made it a bit challenging for other growers, especially those in Mexico, who can’t grow and sell their poinsettia varieties without paying breeders’ rights fees.

Because the patent covers most varieties, Mexican botanists are developing others that won’t be subject to fees.

So far, they’ve registered seven types with Mexico’s regulatory body, which is the first step toward acquiring international protection.

Still, most buyers won’t know or care about such issues. They are too busy admiring the luscious red flowers.

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