|Poinsettias are traditional Christmas plants.
When people shop for turkeys, crackers and presents, they also pick up a poinsettia. Their vivid red bracts (leaves) have become associated with Santa's coat and robins' breasts.
Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where the Aztecs used them in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries both for medicinal purposes and for making dye.
Poinsettias are 'short day plants', meaning they flower when there are less than 12 hours' daylight, to ensure the minimum of competitors of pollinating insects.
The coloured red leaves are not petals. They surround the base of the tiny flower heads and are designed to attract insects that might otherwise overlook the flowers.
The Christmas connection to poinsettias comes from a Mexican legend which tells of a poor girl who dreams of bringing a beautiful gift to favour the Virgin Mary for a Christmas Eve service, yet has nothing worthy.
On the way to Church, she meets an angel who tells her to pick some weeds. She kneels by the roadside and, despite her protests that they are far from desirable, gathers a handful of common weeds. and makes her way to a small chapel where she places her offering on the altar.
The moment she does, they burst into blooms of brilliant red poinsettias and her sorrow turns to joy. The Mexicans renamed it Flor de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve Flower).
Poinsettia Day is on December 12th. It was declared in honour of the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, whom the plant is named after.