Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Enjoy the legend of the beautiful poinsettia plant

Some of you may remember the legend, but I have been asked to recount the reason why are poinsettias given as gifts at Christmas. This tradition has its roots set in a story that takes place in Mexico. There are several versions of this legend, which have been passed down in oral tradition and written word for several centuries, but the message is the same.

Long ago, in a small village in Mexico lived a young girl named Pepita and her older brother Pablo. Like all children, Pepita and Pablo loved Christmas. The village came alive with festivities and everyone participated in the decorating of the church and the piazza in front of it. Even the children made gifts to bring to the church on Christmas Eve to give to the Baby Jesus.

Pepita wanted to make something very special to bring to the Baby Jesus. She had helped her mother weave blankets, so she thought she would make a wonderful colorful blanket. She worked at the loom for hours, but Pepita was too inexperienced to weave a blanket by herself and ended up with a tangled mess of yarn. She was heartbroken. She wanted so much to march in the procession to the church with the other children, but she didn't have a gift to give to the Christ Child.

On Christmas Eve, the villagers began to gather in the piazza. Holding lit candles, they started to sing and move in a procession to the church. Hiding in the shadows, Pepita watched as the other children started to parade past her with their gifts for the Baby Jesus.

"What are you doing here in the shadows, Pepita? Why aren't you with the other children?" her brother Pablo asked, coming over to her.

"I don't have a gift for the Baby Jesus," Pepita replied, her eyes welling up with tears. "I tried to make a beautiful blanket, but it was all tangled."

Pablo hugged her and said, "Pepita, don't you know that the Baby Jesus will love whatever you give Him because it comes from your heart. Love is what makes every gift special."

Pepita looked around and saw some tall weeds. Quickly, she fashioned a bouquet and covered it with her cloak. She ran swiftly into the church. The children were in front of the nativity scene placing their gifts around the figure of Baby Jesus. Suddenly embarrassed that she had picked a bunch of weeds, she stopped in the middle of the aisle.

All eyes turned to her.

"What is Pepita's gift? What does she have under her cloak?" the other children whispered.

What should she do? Should she run out? Should she go forward?

Starting to panic, she looked at all the people watching her. Then, her eyes found her brother. With a smile, he simply nodded. Feeling encouraged, Pepita moved forward to the nativity scene stopping to kneel in front of the Baby Jesus. Closing her eyes and bowing her head, she said a soft prayer and opened her cloak to let the weeds tumble out.

Voices gasped, "Look! Look at those glorious flowers!"

Startled, Pepita opened her eyes. She was stunned. The bunch of weeds had turned into a bouquet of brilliant red star-shaped flowers. All who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes.

And outside, too, every weed now bore a bright red star.

Pepita's love had created a miracle.

From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.

Poinsettias are one of the longest-lasting blooming plants available to consumers. It's important to know what to look for. Here are some tips for choosing and caring for your poinsettia.

To choose the perfect poinsettia:

• Pick a plant with small, tightly clustered buds in the center.

• Look for crisp, bright, undamaged foliage.

• Avoid plants displayed in drafty or crowded areas.

To keep the poinsettia blooming:

• When surface soil is dry to the touch, water thoroughly. Discard excess water in the saucer.

• To prolong color, keep a temperature range of 60 degrees for night and 72 degrees for day. High humidity is preferable.

• Place plant away from hot or cold drafts, and protect from cold winds.


Poinsettia Toxicity Myth

According to, "myths and rumors about the toxicity of the poinsettia plant are common late in the year, when the popular red-leaved plants take center stage in holiday decorations. While the genus (Euphorbia) to which the poinsettia plant belongs does contain some highly toxic plants, the popular poinsettia itself is not toxic.

Some sources attribute the rumor about the dangers of poinsettia leaves to a case of poisoning in 1919 that led to the death of a two year-old child. At the time, the cause of the poisoning was incorrectly determined to be a poinsettia leaf."

"According to the POISINDEX information source -- the primary resource used by the majority of poison control centers nationwide -- a child who weighed 50 lbs. would have to eat over 500 poinsettia leaves to reach a potentially toxic dose of compounds in the poinsettia plant. Doctors at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Poison Center conducted a review of 22,793 reported cases of poinsettia exposures, the majority (93%) of which occurred in children, and found that 92% of those exposed did not develop any symptoms at all. Ninety-six per cent of those exposed were not even treated in a health care facility. Furthermore, no deaths resulting from poinsettia ingestion have ever been documented."


The community is invited to join us at our Heights Garden Center's "Christmas Poinsettia Show" through Sunday, December 4th 12-4. Events include: Live music from Shepherd High School Band 12-3: Cider and cookies; Free Seminars - 12pm "How to Plant an Outdoor Christmas Planter" and at 3pm "Decorate your Entryway". Don't forget to bring your camera for taking family photos against our festive backdrop!

Questions or comments? Contact Jim Gainan via email Jim Gainan is president of Gainan's Flowers and Garden Center in Billings, MT