The stars come out at Christmas. Poinsettias add extra sparkle to Christmas traditions

The Christmas season is marked by a variety of traditions, intimate moments with family and friends, glittering Christmas decorations, giving and receiving gifts – and colourful poinsettias. With their star-shaped bracts, for many people these magnificent plants (known as the Christmas Star in much of Europe) are as much a part of this festive time of year as  Christmas trees, twinkling lights, baubles and other Advent decorations. The decor experts at Stars for Europe (SfE) share how the poinsettia became a Christmas plant and show that, as both a pot plant and cut flower, it can fill your home with festive anticipation and add extra glamour to Christmas customs and traditional decorations.

How the poinsettia became a Christmas plant

The poinsettia originally comes from Mexico. There it grows as a shrub up to 5m high. The Aztecs cultivated the plant in their gardens, decorated temples with it and used it to produce a dye for colouring clothes and as a medicine to reduce fever.

The poinsettia became a Christmas plant after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. In the course of missionary work, it was given the name ‘Estrella de Navidad’ (Christmas star).

In the 17th century, the poinsettia made its first appearance in a procession of Franciscan monks. It was given the name ‘Flor de Nochebuena’ (Holy Night Flower), and increasingly became a Christian symbol.

Worldwide triumph

The global success of the poinsettia as a Christmas plant began at the start of the 20th century. German-born emigrant Albert Ecke observed how the bracts of wild poinsettias around his farm turned red in December. This gave him the idea of growing the plants in his fields to sell their stems as cut flowers in the run-up to Christmas. It was the beginning of a success story. From around 1909, Albert Ecke concentrated entirely on the cultivation of poinsettias.

After his death in 1919, his son Paul I took over the family business. He then concentrated entirely on establishing the poinsettia as a festive symbol under the name Christmas Star. Back in 1920, he tried to grow poinsettias in pots. However, the early varieties weren’t suitable for this type of cultivation. It wasn’t until the 1950s that it became possible to breed varieties that would thrive as indoor pot plants.

From the 1960s onwards, cultivated potted varieties increasingly replaced cut flowers. At the same time as growing poinsettias, the Ecke family ran their own shops in Hollywood and invested a lot of time and energy into marketing activities.

This helped the poinsettia achieve huge popularity within a few years and it soon became an integral part of American Christmas culture. The poinsettia also established itself as a houseplant and Christmas flower in Europe from the 1950s onwards.

A versatile and decorative favourite

Today, there are hundreds of poinsettia varieties in many colours, shapes and sizes.

As pot plants and cut flowers, they provide plenty of festive cheer and give extra sparkle to Christmas customs and traditional decorations.

Poinsettias can also be used in countless festive DIY ideas. Cut and mini poinsettias especially are perfect for creative craft projects.

Tip: Decorations and fabrics with a vintage feel are currently on-trend and work perfectly with poinsettias, the classic Christmas plant!

Christmas trees decorated with poinsettias

A decked-out Christmas tree is the quintessential festive symbol and is hugely popular, not just with children. Poinsettias make the perfect living tree decorations.

As cut flowers or here (left) , in the form of kokedamas, they brighten up any tree with their colourful bracts. To make the kokedamas, remove the mini poinsettias from their pots and wrap the root balls with moss. Secure in place with fine wire and hang up your finished kokedamas.

Tip: Water the root balls of the plants thoroughly before wrapping. Later, water the mini poinsettias carefully from above or remove the moss balls regularly and place them briefly in a container of lukewarm water so they can soak it up.

When it comes to festive Christmas decor, poinsettias not only sparkle as tree decorations, but also as decorations on presents and as a sea of flowers in this vintage box used as a Christmas tree stand.

With their bright colours, they conjure up an unforgettable atmosphere and make other decorations all but redundant.

Tip: Either place the cut poinsettias on the presents in a flower tube filled with water or wrap them with green floral tape. To seal the cut ends, immediately after cutting, dip the stems into hot water (around 60°C) for a few seconds and then plunge them straight into cold water.

Sustainable craft idea: recycled Christmas tree with poinsettias

This rustic, DIY Christmas tree is perfect for anyone who cares about a sustainable lifestyle. It’s a recycling project, as the tree is made from an old trunk (e.g. last year’s Christmas tree), wire and loose pine branches. Here’s how to make it: Form a conical shape frame from a piece of chicken wire and attach it to the trunk with strong reel wire. Then tie pine branches to the chicken wire frame with more reel wire, make poinsettia kokedamas and hang them on the tree with parcel string.

Finally, attach a beautiful cut poinsettia to the top of the tree in a test tube filled with water. For the kokedamas, take the mini poinsettias out of their pots, wrap the root balls with moss and secure in place with fine wire. Don’t forget to water the poinsettias thoroughly before wrapping them. Later, you can either water your mini plants carefully from above or place the moss balls in a container of lukewarm water briefly so they can soak it up.

Poinsettias for atmospheric Christmas baking

Christmastime is biscuit time. Magnificent poinsettias provide the right nostalgic mood for shared baking activities. Poinsettias may do better in a bright spot in a kitchen than in a living room, where they can easily get too warm. A suitable location is bright, protected from draughts and between 15 and 22°C.

Magical Christmas traditions in the glow of poinsettias

For children in particular, Christmas is a magical time full of mysterious rituals and stories, where candlelight and bright red poinsettias conjure up an enchanting mood.

Elves are widespread across Scandinavia and it’s hard to imagine Advent without them. I wonder if the little guys are happy about the mini poinsettia and sweets in front of their door?

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