Is almost December and we can already see all markets full of Nochebuenas, or, as some of you may know them, Poinsettias.
This flower is native to México. Our ancestors used to call them cuetlaxóchitl, a náhuatl word which means cuetlaxtl = leather, and xóchitl = flower. Our ancestors used this name because their red leaves resembled the color of the “freshly peeled” leather. In colonial times, people used to call this flower Pastora or Pascuas, and it was mainly used in the decoration of the Nativity Scene, (Nacimiento in México).
In other parts of the world, Nochebuena flower is called Poinsettia (this name is so strange to me!). This is because, during its period as Ambassador of the Unites States in Mexico (1825-1829), Joel R. Poinsett send to the US some Nochebuenas that he collected from the state of Guerrero because he though the flower was really pretty. Then, its cultivation began and flowers were called Poinsettias.
Nochebuena is one of the most important ornamental flowers in the country. Most of them are grown under greenhouses, because they have special requirements and techniques. Poinsettias are difficult plants to grow. Now a days, there are about 330 ha of greenhouses dedicated to Nochebuena cultivation. Annual production is about 14,695,622 tons of flowers! We also export about 140 tons of bulbs (for those who aren’t familiar with this word, bulbs are like seeds, in function) to countries like United States, Spain, Japan and Netherlands. The three principal states in which Noche Buena is produced is: Morelos, Michoacán (of course ♥) and Puebla.
So, here comes the tricky part: many people think that the flowers are the read leafs of the plant, they see them as if there were petals. The truth is that, these are not flowers, these are leafs called bracts (a modify leaf that has the function of protecting the flowers). These bracts suffered an special modification and this is why they are red. The flowers, on the other hand, are the really little yellow buds in the middle of the red bracts.
Poinsettias where my profesor’s favorite example of a photoperiodic plant in our Production Under Controlled Environments course. Mom’s have been effortless trying to make all Poinsettias bough for this Christmas to bloom for the next Christmas, but the truth is this is a bit hard, I’ll rather buy another one for the next year, (jaja). The thing is that these plants are extremely sensitive to light, they respond to short daylenghts (or long nights); so, if you want them to bloom for the next Christmas, from October 1st, they shouldn’t be receiving more than 10 hours of light daily. This can be achieved by placing your plants in a dark room every day from 5 pm to 7 am daily for 8 to 10 weeks.
It was after receiving this life-changing class about how light affect plants when I understood why my grandpa’s Nochebuena bloomed on September. My grandpa used to have an enormous Nochebuena in his backyard, it was almost like a tree to me! and this kind of bushy poinsettias (the wild version) are common in the center and south of Mexico, but, since these wild plants are exposed to variable amounts of light, blossom dates tend to change.
I used to complain every year on how much it has increased the price of this flower, but, knowing all the efforts that had to be done in order to obtain such a beautiful plant, I think it worth the price. Enjoy you all your Poinsettias or Nochebuenas this year ! there is absolutely no doubt it is a beautiful plant that we can only enjoy this time of the year :).
By the way, here in Mexico we have another type of Nochebuena. Is hard for me to decide which one I like the most, you will have to guess the answer jaja.
CONACULTA (2011). La Flor de Nochebuena, Ícono Natural Mexicano de la Navidad. http://goo.gl/2DJSlo
Perry L. (N.D.) Fun Facts about Poinsettias. University of Vermont. http://goo.gl/HnhKUB
SAGARPA (2014). Curso-Taller, Cultivo de la Nochebuena: Retos sobre Nutrición y Sanidad. http://goo.gl/wYfWG0
SAGARPA (2013). Comercializarán producción de nochebuena de 20.5 millones de plantas. IFAI, Sistema Infomex. http://goo.gl/8QazZm
SIAP (2014). Producción agrícola: Nochebuena (planta). Anuario Estadístico de la Producción Agrícola. http://goo.gl/2Tkwa3