Christmas

The Meaning of Poinsettias

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By Luz V. García, MS,

How beautiful is the view of poinsettias as a seasonal arrangement in our homes!

Poinsettias are native plants from Mexico. In Mexico they celebrate Poinsettia Day, on December 12, a tradition that began after the first American Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett discovered the plant in 1828.

But the first references to this plant go way back to the times of Aztec emperor Montezuma who in the 15 Century demanded that Poinsenttias be brought to the City of Mexico from lower lands in Mexico. The Aztecs called the plant “ CUITLAXOCHITL” that means ”Star Flower” and back then the plant was given the scientific name “Euphorbia pulcherrima” which means “ the most beautiful”. Aztecs used the white milky suds of the plant as a medicine for fever and extracted the pigment for makeup and also to dye their clothes..

But it was in the 16th century that the Franciscan Monks in Mexico began the tradition of using poinsettias for Christmas decorations. In the 17 Century, Mexicans celebrated the Day of the Lady of Guadalupe also on December 12 and they call the poinsettia the” Flower of Christmas Eve “. There is a Mexican legend that talks about two children, a boy and a girl, who had nothing to take to the Church Nativity Scene on Christmas Eve, but left a green poinsettia plant as their gift. According to the legend on Christmas morning, the leaves of their poinsettia had turned into a bright red color.

The first scientific records in Mexico about poinsettias were written in the 17 Century, by botanist Juan Balme.

In USA, the U.S. House of Representative proclaimed in July 2002 “Poinsettia Day” in honor of Paul Ecke Jr who in 1900 discovered a technique that allows the reproduction in mass through poinsettia seeds. That is why it is so easy to find this plant here in US during winter season. The world production of this plant has increased considerably and now we can see a variety of colors, from rose to white and even blue.

What is the meaning of poinsettias to you? For me, it represents a flower that announces the beginning of Christmas season. It does not matter, where our poinsettias come from, the truth is that we enjoy them in a variety of colors and if we are fortunate to cultivate them throughout the year.

About the author:  Ms. Luz V. García M.E. is a physical scientist at EPA’s Division of Enforcement of Compliance Assistance. She is a four-time recipient of the EPA bronze medal, most recently in 2011 for the discovery of illegal pesticides entry at U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New York.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Really “Stinky” Christmas Tree

By Marcia Anderson

Last year, my husband and son went on their annual Christmas tree hunt. They came home with a lovely tree that was home to our lights, ornaments and garland, and it filled our home with the fresh scent of spruce.  Christmas came and went, and the tree dried out. While taking off the lights and ornaments, I found a few “shield shaped” bugs on the branches. For the next four months my house was overrun with the most putrid smelling bugs that I ever encountered.

When my husband brought the tree in from the cold outdoors, the stink bugs awoke from their winter slumber. As long as the tree was fresh, the stink bugs blissfully drank its sap.  However, as the tree dried, the sap was no longer available, so the stink bugs migrated all over the house looking for another meal. They targeted bathrooms and the kitchen which have ready water sources, and rooms with houseplants. They even swam in the dogs’ water dish. All winter long I battled stink bugs. They made the vacuum smell. The dog stank. I soon found the easiest way to get rid of them was to give them an eternal swim in the porcelain whirlpool.

Want to avoid a winter long battle? Bring a strong flashlight with you when you are selecting your tree. Check carefully on the trunk and undersides of the branches for the brown, ugly bugs. If you squeeze them you will quickly learn where they get their name.

Advice: Find them? Then find a different tree.

Stink bugs got their name from the rotting smell they give off when threatened or crushed. More

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Great Lakes Christmas Tree Ship

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By Cameron Davis

On November 22, the Rouse Simmons listed badly, caked in ice from water and snow during one of storms for which the Great Lakes are known this time of year. Its cargo: more than 5,000 Christmas trees bound from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Chicago.

Hermann Schuenemann had been part owner and captain of the Simmons for years. And he came from a sailing family. So it was still a surprise when the schooner went down off the coast of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, that fateful day, one hundred years ago.

Rallying, Herman’s wife Barbara and two daughters continued the business in Herman’s wake, bringing trees into the Chicago River for sale.

The tale is now legend in the Midwest, not only for the fate of Herman and his ship, but the tenacity of his wife and daughters. But today, the “Legend of the Christmas Tree Ship,” is more than an enthralling true story. It lives on in exhibits at the Rogers Street Fishing Village in Two Rivers.  It lives on through plays.  And it lives on through the U.S. Coast Guard’s cutter, Mackinac.

But most of all, it lives on through an appreciation of all the Great Lakes continue to deliver to us: water, jobs, recreation and an unparalleled quality of life.

Find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts at www.glri.us, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA). If you missed out on Great Lakes Week and still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment box or send me a tweet.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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