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The Xmas Flower

Dicembre 2006
La stella di Natale? In realtà è una pianta tropicale e viene dal Messico, dove fu scoperta dall’ambasciatore USA, tal Joel R. Poinsett... tutto il resto è marketing.

di Derek Workman

File audio:

The Poinsettia
The Poinsettia

Speaker: Justin Ratcliffe (Standard  British accent)

This holiday season Americans will spend an estimated $255 million (€200 million) on Poinsettia plants, while the British will spend an estimated £20 million (€30 million). Dick Handscombe, an expert gardener who has written such books as Your Garden in Spain, reckons that between five and six million examples of the plant will be sold in the UK between now and Christmas.

the mexican flame tree

And yet the Poinsettia originated in a country not readily associated with snow and reindeer: Mexico. According to legend, a little Mexican girl was going to church on Christmas Eve and felt ashamed that she could not afford to buy a flower for the altar. An angel told her to pick some weeds by the side of a road, assuring her that a gift, given in love, would be acceptable in God’s eyes. Indeed, when she took the weeds into the church and placed them on the altar, they suddenly blossomed into a bright red colour. Dick Handscombe reckons that the Poinsettia’s popularity lies in its colour:

Dick Handscombe (Standard British accent):

I think really, because of its very spectacular coloured flowers, which can be nursed to be out exactly for Christmas: it is a very vivid red and it goes with Father Christmas and various other Christmas decorations, and that... that’s how it’s come through. The original plant, which is actually called the Mexican Flame Tree, is a very sizeable tree, but, of course, people have then managed to breed ones which don’t grow more than, let’s say, a metre high. But, of course, one of the disappointing things for many people in recent years is that it’s almost impossible to keep them very long after Christmas, and certainly impossible to plant them out in the garden.

flower power

Although the Poinsettia is now a feature of Christmas throughout the world, this tradition only really began in the 1960s, when Jim Mikkelsen, a Chicago nurseryman, produced a dwarf strain of the plant that didn’t take up too much space and was equipped to withstand the variation in temperature of domestic heating systems. The original Poinsettia was a far larger plant and was first taken from Mexico to the United States by US Ambassador Joel Robert Poinsett in the 1830s. Today size is the key in explaining the popularity of the “dwarf poinsettia.” And although the Poinsettia is famous for being red, that could also change, says Dick Handscombe:

Dick Handscombe:

Most houses can’t fit in a large three, four, five-foot Christmas plant, what they want is something for the table, something for the sideboard, something for the windowsill, so they’ve bred (the) poinsettia to come back to the size of a small azalea. I think the challenge to the plant breeders (is) to see what they can produce and, as I say, there are pinkish hues, there are yellows, there’s a white-ish yellow, and I think then, the marketing people are saying, “Well, there are those people who want something a little bit different” so, if somebody is buying a present, instead of buying another red poinsettia, which may be the sixth one delivered to the house, they can now deliver something a little bit different!

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reckons - calcola.

reindeer - renne.     

felt ashamed - si vergognava.

to pick some weeds - raccogliere delle erbacce.

gift - dono.

indeed - infatti.

blossomed - sbocciarono.

which can be nursed to be out - che si possono far fiorire...

that’s how it’s come through - è andata così.

actually - in realtà.

sizeable - grande.

to breed - produrre.

disappointing - spiacevole.

feature - presenza.

nurseryman - vivaista.

dwarf strain - varietà nana.

to withstand - resistere.

can’t fit in - non hanno spazio per.

five foot - un metro e mezzo.

sideboard - comodino.

windowsill - davanzale.

challenge - sfida.     

pinkish hues - sfumature rosa.

delivered - consegnata.