On Purchasing Poinsettias: How to Celebrate the Christmas Flower

by Sierra Winters

February is for the roses, spring is for the tulips, summer and fall are for the sunflowers, and December? December is for the poinsettias. Today, in fact, is National Poinsettia Day. So what is the legend behind this flower and what should you consider when purchasing them? We’re here to answer these questions as we guide you in celebrating the holiday season with these red beauties.

A Christmas Legend

Poinsettias are known as the Christmas Flower, or “Flores de Noche Buena” (“Flowers of the Holy Night”). According to legend, a young Mexican girl wanted to offer Jesus a gift for Christmas, but had little money. So she laid a bundle of weeds that she had gathered herself on the altar, and as she did so, they bloomed in stunning, vibrant shades of red.

Though Mexican in origin, poinsettias have been in the United States since Joel Poinsett, the first American ambassador to Mexico, introduced them in the early 1800s. Now we can find them everywhere during the holiday season. Though we still import them every year, they are often grown on local farms as well.

Poinsettia Ethics

Most of the flowers we buy in the United States are actually grown overseas in European, African, Asian, and South American countries. This means that there is an inevitable carbon footprint associated with their transportation and refrigeration. Furthermore, when flowers are grown out-of-season in greenhouses, those greenhouses require even more energy for lighting, heating, and cooling. There is also a chemical threat to humans, animals, and water sources posed by any fertilizers and pesticides used to prolifically grow pristine flowers.

Beyond environmental concerns, the flower industry can sometimes play host to inhumane treatment of its workers, such as in the case of Colombia, where the United States sources the majority of its cut flowers. Even though the flower industry has helped combat the drug trade in Colombia, workers (mostly female) earn only about $300 per month and experience “rashes, headaches, impaired vision, and skin discoloration” from chemical exposure. Requests for medical help are often met with immediate termination of working contracts.

While poinsettias are mostly grown in Mexico, similar conditions may still apply, so try to buy organic, fair trade, Rainforest Alliance-certified poinsettias whenever possible. This may not be possible where you live, and so you should feel free to start your own tradition, like making paper poinsettias or growing “poinsettia peppers.”

Whatever you choose, we hope you find a meaningful way to appreciate these magnificent blooms this holiday season!

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