The Christmas star –
biography of a Hollywood star
Stages in a world career
The Christmas star has its home in Central America and Mexico. But its world career began where the illustrious career of all stars has its origins: in Hollywood, California.
An old legend of the Aztecs says that the plant with the luminous red bracts grew out of a tragic love story. The drops of blood from the broken heart of an Aztec goddess gave rise to the Christmas star. The Aztecs appreciated the plant that adorned the tropical highland during the short winter days less for its decoration and more for its practical benefit. They called the Christmas star 'Cuetlaxochitl' in their language. From its bracts, they made a red pigment that was used for textiles and cosmetics. The milky sap of the Christmas star was processed to a fever reducing medicine.
In the sub-tropical climate of its home, the Christmas star grows as a bush and can be up to 4 metres high. In this form, Joel Poinsett succumbed to the charm of the wild Christmas star around 1828. The US ambassador in Mexico, doctor and passionate botanist, brought the Christmas star to his home. In his honour, it was given the name 'Poinsettia'. And that’s not all: On the 12th December, the USA has remembered the day Poinsett died since the middle of the 18th century, celebrating 'Poinsettia Day'. Traditionally, they give each other Christmas stars – a nice custom that is gaining in popularity in Europe, too.
The striking winter bloomer was discovered in Europe in the early 19th century. In 1804, the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt had noticed the luminous red plant and had taken the Christmas star home with him after a trip to America. In Berlin, it was catalogued and was given the botanical name 'Euphorbia pulcherrima', the 'most beautiful of the euphorbias' by the botanist Carl Ludwig Willdenow in 1833. In 1834, the Christmas star was described by the doctor, chemist and custodian at the Botanical Museum in Berlin, Johann Friedrich Klotzsch, according to a document of the 'Willdenow' herbarium.
A star – as a bouquet and in a pot
The German emigrant to America, Paul Ecke, began the marketing of the Christmas star at the beginning of the 20th century – and thus an illustrious global career. Fascinated by the red plants growing wild near to his Californian farm, Ecke tried his hand at growing the poinsettias. He recorded initial successes with freshly cut Christmas star twigs that he marketed as a Christmas plant. His son, Paul Jr., sold them during the American holiday season in the Christmas business at prominent outlets: on the Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards in Los Angeles. A worthy birthplace for a world star. And the career of the Christmas star thus began where today the world-renowned stars on the 'Walk of Fame' honour the greats of the entertainment industry.
Encouraged by his successes with the Christmas star in Hollywood, Ecke pushed on with growing poinsettias. On his farm in southern California, he first grew poinsettia plants on large fields that were then marketed via gardeners throughout the country as cut flowers. The field production of cut flowers was later replaced to a large extent by the production of pot plants. It is down to successes in cultivation in Germany around 1950 that the Christmas star is now able to survive in heated rooms in conditions that it was initially not used to.
Modern Christmas star culture
Its large colourful bracts are what make the Christmas star the most popular pot plant worldwide. Poinsettias have simply become essential in the run-up to Christmas and over Christmas itself, in different sizes, as a bush or high-stem, as a decorative object and as a gift.
It is no accident that poinsettias are adorned with attractive colours particularly at Christmas time. The formation of blossoms and colourful bracts, i.e. the change from vegetative growth with solely green leaves to generative growth, only occurs when the day and thus the light lasts less than 12 hours. In Central Europe, this is the case around the beginning to mid-September. After the blossoms start to form (induction), it takes another seven to nine weeks before the Christmas star enters the shops in its usual colourful glory. Modern-day Christmas star gardeners leave nothing to chance in this sensitive development period. So that the stars blossom every year anew in time for the Advent and Christmas period, they take elaborate gardening measures. In the greenhouse, they ensure that the length of the day and the temperature are constantly 'the right one' and thus create reliable vegetation conditions for the winter bloomer. This means that the stars turn wonderfully red at the right time and can give their fans a colourful Advent and Christmas.
With its triumphal march around the world, the Christmas star has asserted its position as a genuine star. Today, it celebrates in more than 100 varieties, with ever-different colours, shapes and sizes and a countless number of decoration options creating one triumph after the next. And there is no end in sight for this illustrious career!