Monday, 23 November 2015

Often told, but still few know....."Why Poinsettias, or is it Poinsiettas, or just plain Good Night??"


(1)poinsettia, or (2)poinsetta or (3)Noche Buena?

All those names are correct in the vernacular.

The way El Gringo Viejo learned it?  Number 2
and number 3.... But the official general
 modern-day use in the United States
 is number 1

     It's  beginning to look a lot like Christmas, goes the song, so even those of us who follow the western Orthodox Calendar.... we look around and ask, "So what if it's not even Advent yet?  We can still start looking around for those showy postings and plantings of newly and freshly blooming Ponsiettas.    We tell ourselves, "After the first of the year, this time I am really going to plant some in the back yard, and not buy any more, from now on."
     After several weeks of overwatering, or failure to "remember'' about watering and dropping a little orchid food in their water, the hapless plants tend to wind up in Dempster Dumpsters along with a lot of Christmas gift wrapping material, burned out twinkler lights, and such things.   Sometimes the poor Ponsietta owner wonders why the name of the plant begins with a "capital P".   There is a reason.   But first:

     We find the stemmy plant surprising the monks who were very much involved in plants, edibles, flowers, and horticultural lore among the native groups in New Spain....or what would much later become what we know as Mexico now.   They found it in the Vera Cruz lowlands....warm, steamy, humid, with 60 - 100 inches of rain...they found in the lower mountains and almost up to 9,000 feet along some of the higher passes and where sheltered places could protect them from the cold.
     They found the plant in the dry lands to the north where they had to be watered carefully and on an almost ritualistic basis....and they adorned the patios of the grand casones of the wealthy and the irregular "yards'' of the most common Indian's hovel. 

Large but no record,  16 feet across and 8 feet high
and growing in a normal 
neighborhood, from stems
of 18 inches, being simply stuck into the ground.


     The above picture is repeated in different ways in thousands of places throughout central and southern Mexico as well as much of Central America and the Caribbean.  

     During the earliest days of the Spanish contact and conquest of Meso - America, the friars and others learned that the name of this plant or bush was somewhat depressing....cuitlaxochitl....reduced phonetically into the Spanish from the native Nahuatl language.  Cuitlaxochitl (Kwee tlah zoh CHI tl) means any number of variations of "flower that dies", such as death flower or suffering and dying flower.
     The friars liked it more for its surprising quality of beginning to change their leaves from green to bright red....very a very propitious time.    That colour change and  blooming occurs at the darkest time of the year, which to the good fortune of the friars co-incided with major religious events. 
     We proceed.  El Dia de la Aparicion de Santa Maria de Tepeyac (Our Lady of Guadalupe),  de La Fiesta de la Navidad, el Feliz An~o Nuevo and the Epifania constitute a string of high Holy Days and episodes that run from the 12th of December through the 6th of January.   There are numerous celebrations from the Matachines to the Posadas visitations and processions.   Fronds  and Poinsiettas, among other flowering niceties accompany all such events and celebrations.

     Poinsiettas require certain attention, things,
and schedules.   They have to have well-drained
soil, and they have to be allowed to go to dry
between waterings.

   They seem to prefer benign neglect, but
many gardeners swear that Poinsiettas have
to be pinched back one/fourth of their height
on or about Memorial Day and then again on
Labour Day.

    Pray for rain, but water the larger bushes at
least once every two or three weeks. Over-fertilizing
will result in lots of green leaves that do not change

     The story can go on and on.  But, imagine if one of Americas earliest diplomats to Mexico, who also was closely associated with the establishment of the  Smithsonian Institution, also had a hand in the naming and introduction of this, and other wondrous plants into the United States.  It is all true...and in spades.   Joel Roberts Poinsett was the Charge d' Affaires of the American government during the time shortly after the establishment of the Mexican Constitution of 1824 and shortly before the instability of times brought on by the torments of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.  He served in Mexico for almost five years.   His feats were similar if not more exhilarating than any James Bond fiction.

     Santa Anna changed sides  in any political argument, more frequently than (Sir Edmund) Hillary.   He had also groomed what would prove to be a core of an Army with the Mexican Army that would strangely seem to follow him from 1829 or so through nearly 1860, no matter how "confused" their leader might have been at the moment.

Joel Roberts Poinsett,
 Renaissance Man, International Meddler
 and Agent for both the United States
 and the Scottish Rite Masonic Lodge,
 brilliant horticulturist, and scientist

       Although Lopez de Santa Anna was a member of the Scottish Rite Masonic Lodge, as was Joel Roberts Poinsett, he was also enrolled as a member of a York Rite Lodge in Vera Cruz.  Santa Anna also changed from Republican Federalist to Centralist and back again several times.   He also served as self-appointed or elected President and Vice-President depending on how much blame needed to be taken and how much rest he needed in his beloved Hacienda El Mango de Clavo de Lencero in Vera Cruz State.

   It behooved Lopez de Santa Anna to reveal to Mexico that Joel Roberts Poinsett and various others involved at high levels of the Mexican government were conspiring to commit acts offensive to the National Integrity of the Republic of Mexico.

   He raised a stink strong enough to manage to successfully accuse Joel of being involved in this terrible conspiracy and managed to have him declared persona non grata, and deported.

     Joel Roberts Poinsett was allowed time to pack his many effects, among them many of his pottings of the Noche Buena flowers so associated with the many Winter parties he had attended.   Many of the Mexican hosts noted his delight with the plant, and had also learned that he was one of America's foremost plant experts and horticulturists, so various of the hosts gave him a good range of sturdy plants.   It is thought that even Lopez de Santa Anna gave him a sample from that hacienda outside of Jalapa, the capital city of Vera Cruz.

    By the end of 1829 he was back in his beloved South Carolina and plotting other adventures.   During his life, he "meddled" in several countries of South America, in every nation of the western 2 / 3's of Europe, always representing the interests of the United States of America, officially and well, as well as tirelessly advancing the code and standards of the brotherhood of Scottish Rite Masonry.   We commend study of his life....a very complex and adventurous life, by all OROGs.

     And that, Virginia, is why we named the Mexican "Noche Buena'', officially and definitively in the mid-1830s by those in charge of official names for strange and interesting things from the Vegetative Kingdom, the "Poinsettia".  (many Southerners still pronounce it "Poinsietta", however)

More later.  I hear the sound of the Cannons!!!
El Gringo Viejo