SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Like the Christmas tree, Santa and reindeer, the poinsettia has long been a ubiquitous symbol of the holiday season in the U.S. and throughout Europe.
But now, nearly 200 years after the plant with bright red leaves was introduced to America, attention is once again turning to the origins of the poinsettia and the bizarre history of its namesake, a slave owner and lawmaker who Played a role in its forced removal. Native Americans from their lands. Some people now prefer to call the plant by its native name in southern Mexico.
Some things to know:
Where did the name poinsettia come from?
The name comes from amateur botanist and politician Joel Roberts Poinsett, who came across the plant in 1828 during his tenure as the first US minister to newly independent Mexico.
Poinsett, who was interested in science as well as potential cash crops, sent clippings of the plant to his home in South Carolina and to a botanist in Philadelphia, who in gratitude attached the eponymous name to the plant.
A life-size bronze statue of Poinsett still stands in his honor in downtown Greenville, South Carolina.
However, within a year of his discovery he was expelled from Mexico, as he had earned a local reputation for political maneuvering that extended to a network of secret Masonic lodges and schemes to curb British influence.
Is the name 'Poinsettia' losing its luster?
As more people become aware of the complex history of its name, the name "poinsettia" has become less attractive in the United States.
Unvarnished published accounts reveal that Poinsett was a disruptive advocate for business interests abroad, a slave holder on a rice plantation in the US, and a Secretary of War who helped lead the forced removal of Native Americans, including the Cherokee population in Oklahoma. Westward transfer was also included. "The Trail of Tears."
In a new biography titled "Flowers, Guns and Money", historian Lindsay Schekenbach Regele describes the cosmopolitan Poinsett as a political and economic pragmatist who conspired with Chile's independence leader and with British bankers in Mexico. Collusioned. Although he was a slave owner, he opposed secession, and he did not live to see the Civil War.
Schekenbach Regele passed a harsh judgment on Poinsett's behavior and respect for the indigenous people.
She writes, "Since Poinsett belonged to learned societies, contributed to botanists' collections, and purchased art from Europe, he could more easily justify expelling natives from their homes."
A Christmas Flower With Many Names
Cultivation of this plant dates back to the Aztec Empire in Mexico 500 years ago.
Among the Nahuatl-speaking communities of Mexico, the plant is known as cuatlaxochitl (quet-la-SHO-sheet), meaning "flower that withers." This is an apt description of the thin red leaves on wild varieties of plants that grow more than 10 feet (3 meters) in height.
Year-end holiday markets in Latin America are filled with potted plants, known in Spanish as "flor de nochebuena" or "flower of Christmas Eve", associated with celebrations the night before Christmas. Is. The name "Nochebuena" dates back to the early Franciscan monks who arrived from Spain in the 16th century. The Spaniards once called it "scarlet cloth".
Additional nicknames abound: "Santa Catarina" in Mexico, "Estrella Federal" or "Federal Star" in Argentina, and "Penacho de Incan" or "Headdress" in Peru.
Popularized in the 19th century, the Latin name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, means "most beautiful" of a variegated species with milky sap of latex.
So what is its favorite name?
According to Elena Jackson Albarrán, professor of Mexican history and global and intercultural studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, "Cuatxochitl" is winning over some enthusiasts among Mexican youth, including those in the diaspora in the US.
“I've seen a trend of people who openly say: 'Don't call this flower a poinsettia or a nochebuena. It's a cuitlaxochitl,'" Jackson Albarran said. "There's going to be a large group of people who are like , 'Who cares?'"
According to Mexican biologist Laura Trejo, who is leading a study on the genetic history of the U.S. poinsettia, most ordinary people in Mexico never say "poinsettia" or talk about poinsettias.
"I feel like only historians, diplomats and politicians know the history of the poinsette," Trejo said.
Mexican roots of US poinsettias
In recent years Mexican biologists have traced the genetic stock of American poinsettia plants to a wild version in the Pacific coastal state of Guerrero, confirming lore about the poinsettia's crucial encounter there. Scientists are also researching the rich, untapped diversity of other wild types, which could help protect plants from poaching and theft of genetic information.
This flower still grows wild along the Pacific coast of Mexico and parts of Central America to Costa Rica.
Trejo, of the National Council of Science and Technology in the central state of Tlaxcala, said some informal outdoor markets still sell "sun cuatlaxochitl" that resemble modern patented varieties as well as wild varieties.
In his field research trips, Trejo has found homes that preserve ancient traditions involving flowers.
"It is clear to us that this plant, since the pre-Hispanic era, is a ceremonial plant, an offering, because it is still in our culture, in the interior of the county, to cut the flowers and take them to altars Have,” she said in Spanish. "And it is associated mainly with maternal goddesses: Coatlicue, Tonantzin and now with the Virgin Mary."
an enduring figure in history
Despite its troubled history, Poinsett's legacy as an explorer and collector remains large: approximately 1,800 carefully handled poinsettias were transferred from greenhouses in Maryland to a long list of museums in Washington, D.C., affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, in November and December. is delivered.
A "pink-champagne" variety is gracing the National Portrait Gallery this year.
Poinsett's name may also live on for his connection to other areas of American culture. He advocated the establishment of a National Science Museum, and partly due to his efforts, a major accomplishment was achieved The will of British scientist James Smithson was used To assume responsibility for the construction of the Smithsonian Institution.