A vibrant and cheerful plant that we see invited into various winter celebrations that are commonly known as Poinsettias might prefer another name…
The modern name origin of this holiday seasonal plant derives itself from a man who served as the first U.S. minister to Mexico (1825) and whose policies made the Mexican government and the people despise and demand for his removal and all while he, for about five years, found time to botanize local wildlands to send specimens to the U.S. for cultivation.
Before he stole this sacred plant being, in the 1700s they were referred to as La Flor De Nochebuena when they began to be used in Christianized ceremonies. Even through the colonization of ceremony sacred native plant beings still guided the way and our people found ways to practice rituals disguised to others but still sacred to us.
La Flor de Nochebuena grows in the wild from southern Mexico all the way down into Guatemala. The seasonal red dress is not that of petals but of leafy bracts, you have to look closer to observe their flower clusters that bloom in the center, pictured up close in the photograph below.
Named Cuetlaxochitl by the Aztecs, which translates to flower that withers; mortal flower that perishes like all that is pure, they were honored by the Mexíca nation as it is said to have been cultivated in their gardens. Mayans refer to the plant as K’alul Wits which translates to ember flower. I mean…just imagine being guided by the starry sky for direction as the nights become longer and colder and you behold this tree losing some of their green foliage and turning a vibrant red at the top like a burning flame and when the days grow longer and brighter, they turn back to green. Experiences like that are engrained in DNA and can never be taken away or stolen. May we remember the true spirit of plant relatives outside of the disguises the past has forced upon them. They are still here; we are still here. They are the flames ablaze for the longer nights; so that we might see the light within that still burns bright.
The resilient plant is traditionally invited into usage in many ways; from medicine, textile dyeing, and magic.
This is just one cultural insight of many as this plant has been welcomed into many cultures. My intention in sharing this perspective is to encourage us to collectively reclaim plant names that are closer to our cultures and to invite a curiosity that may transcend into learning more about the energetics of the plants through inquiry.
Because of this history and to celebrate my Mexican culture I prefer and am most currently comfortable with referring to this plant, even though it still relates to a post-colonial tale, as La Flor de Nochebuena, it at least speaks a little closer to the original meaning of the plant’s name.
The essence of this enchanting being, perhaps, is one to consider for helping guide our internal compass, to evoke and reignite that inner light of direction, especially during this time. I enjoy growing them in containers on my porch as if they are guardian torches guiding the way to our doorstep.
I believe nature expands beyond names and invites us to dream into the possibilities of the expansiveness of presence.
Sources: The Center for Agricultural, Food, and the Environment, UMASS
Drink Cultura: Chicanismo by José Antonio Burciaga