"La Flor de la Nochebuena"

Believe it or not, this Saturday, December 12th is National Poinsettia Day. Well, at least it is in the United States. This date marks the death of Joel Poinsett, the ambassador to Mexico who shipped poinsettia cuttings back to his home in Charleston, South Carolina back in 1828. 

Well, of course, they weren’t called Poinsettia cuttings back then because poinsettias were named in honour of Joel Poinsett years after they arrived in South Carolina. And, obviously, the Mexicans didn’t call them Poinsettias because they had their own name for them long before Joel Poinsett "discovered" them. In Mexico they are called "La Flor de la Nochebuena" (Spanish for Flower of the Holy Night) which is a much prettier sounding name. 

But why stop there? The point…er…La Flor de la Nochebuena was around long before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Aztecs called them Cuitlaxochitl (cuitaltl for residue and xochitl for flower). Given that the leaves contain a milky-latex and the flowers are the dominant feature, Cuitaxochitl may be impossible to say but accurately describes the plant.

Now let’s face it, while we humans think that we are the only creatures that discover things, skip Poinsett, the Spaniards and the Aztecs. Whether you call them poinsettias, La Flor de la Nochebeuna, Cuitaxochitl, or even their botanical name: Euphorbia pulcherrima, the dinosaurs have us all beat.

 About 100 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period (when the dinosaurs attained their largest size) an order of plants called Malpighiales emerged with Euphorbia pulcherrima being one of the family members. So perhaps the dinosaurs deserve some credit for "discovering" some red Malpighiales.

Now, while I’m no paleontologist perhaps the dinosaurs became so large thanks to some nutritious and tasty poinsettias. I have absolutely nothing to back up the nutritious poinsettia-massive dinosaur hypothesis but…just sayin’.

~Jim Hole