Have you ever been able to keep one alive past the month of December? I have a friend who buys a dozen each year for a band concert. He swears he can hear them whispering "Assassin" when he enters the store.
I'm not even sure they are a flower. I think they are leaves that are photosynthesisically altered. (I did make that word up, but it seems to work.) Starved for light, they protest in bright red.
Someone gives me at least one poinsettia plant per year. I always shake my head in sympathy at the plant, knowing it has a shelf life in my house. Expiration date: December 26. It is very difficult for me to want to nurture a plant that involves keeping it alive for 12 more months (and two of those months must be spent in and out of a regimented dark closet schedule). I know that Lowe's will have them for $5 again next year, so what is the point? It is hard to have simpatico for a plant that requires spell check each time it is mentioned.
With all my spare time in the evening, I read a website by the University of Illinois about this plant. This hallowed institution claims that, contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia is not poisonous. They reference a study by their friends at Ohio State University who state that a 50 pound child who ate 500 bracts (the modified leaves in the center of the "flower") might only suffer a "slight tummy ache". I wasn't aware that laboratory rats had been replaced by small children for research involving supposedly poisonous substances. ("Here little Johnny, why don't you try a bushel barrel full of these yummy bracts...")
More reasons to love this plant? It gives off a milky sap that can cause skin irritation. (But no stomach ache, apparently.) Fresh poinsettias have little pollen; a plant that sheds pollen is about to lose its leaves. (Useful information akin to thumping a watermelon for ripeness.) 74% of people prefer red poinsettias, and Disneyworld/land will only display the crimson ones for the viewing pleasure of their holiday crowds.
A last sobering factoid: 80% of these plants are purchased by women who are aged 40 or above. I happen to know that is a snapshot of my blog-reading demographic. (Except for Patty Raines' girls who are so kind to stop by and read the rants and raves of their mother's old friend.) In a six week period, you all will help purchase 61 million plants, of which 27 will still be alive in February. Spreading the love with a shedding poinsettia on Valentine's Day.
In writing this blog entry, I found out that today is National Poinsettia Day, and I am so glad to do my part in helping you recognize and celebrate this fact. This day was instituted by an Act of Congress with lobbying efforts by the Paul Ecke Ranch, which raises 80% of the plants in the US and gave the start to 90% of poinsettias in the world. If you've purchased a plant, you are a small cog in the wheel of the Christmas Machine that will be unplugged in a few weeks.
So, Happy National Poinsettia Day. And join me later this week when we will be discussing all things tinsel, fruitcake and inflatable front yard Christmas decorations. Because nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a 9 foot Santa on a Harley.