Photographed by Bette Jackson
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Hi, I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson, out with the wild things. The beautiful red and green poinsettia has become a major part of mid-winter holiday decorations around the world, but it's nowhere more popular than in the United States. Poinsettia gets its common name from Joel Robert Poinsett, a physician, an amateur botanist, first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and later, U.S. Secretary of War. One historian suggests that on Christmas Day in 1825, Poinsett attended church in Mexico where he found a nativity scene decorated with the plant. Another suggests that he found the plant growing along the road in Mexico. What is certain is that Ambassador Poinsett was enamored with the plant and sent some back to South Carolina. On his return to the U.S., Poinsett cultivated the plants and promoted their use at Christmas. The common name of this plant honors Poinsett. Its Spanish name, ‘noche buena’, refers to Christmas Eve and the importance of this plant as a symbol of Christmas. But perhaps it's the scientific name that says it best: the Latin name bestowed by a German botanist is Pulcherrima: it means 'very beautiful,' and indeed it is.
'With the Wild Things' is produced at the Whitaker Center in the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University. For 'The Wild Things', I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson.