Unsigned poinsettias are warning

by Bob Huber

When Christmas dust settles, I always face a colossal quandary — what do I do with the poinsettias?

They never come with directions. In many cases, I don’t even know who sent them.

To my way of thinking, they’ve turned into a national dilemma. Do I transplant them in the garden? Hack them to pieces? Put salt on their tails? They’re an albatross around my neck.

Each Christmas I get some poinsettias anonymously. Even when I sat before the character-building teletype machines of United Press, poinsettias came each year. I had hoped for occasional journalistic perks, but poinsettias were hardly what I had in mind.

For a while I thought my wife Marilyn sent them to lift my holiday spirits, but she denied it. She said I could do my own lifting, because there was nothing in our marriage contract that said she had to be a yuletide Prozac.

I received my first anonymous poinsettia while I was playing a waiting game in the pressroom of the capitol in Santa Fe. A delivery boy said, “Someone sent these flowers to a bunch of state agencies. What agency are you?”

“Oh, well, the Royal Information Bureau,” I replied, reaching for a flower.

“I don’t see you on the list.”

“An obvious oversight. LET GO MY POINSETTIA!”

I took the plant home, because I was bigger than the delivery boy, but I had nagging concerns about what to do with it after Christmas. Little did I realize that I was experiencing the early signs of Post Holiday Poinsettia Syndrome.

“Do you think I could dry the leaves and smoke them?” I asked Marilyn.

“Rumor has it they’re poisonous. Still, they might help you give up cigars.”

“I suppose that also outlaws poinsettia juleps,” I said.
So I looked over my dusty archives hoping to solve the puzzle and found a Southerner named Joel R. Poinsett, whose name should be footnoted along with Willard Fraunfelder of Broken Bow, Neb., who invented the shirttail.

Poinsett was appointed ambassador to Mexico way back before the Civil War, but he couldn’t keep his nose out of Mexico’s business. After trying to start a revolution, he was kicked out.

As a parting gesture of American goodwill, Poinsett stole some protected Mexican flora, transplanted them back home, and got rich selling red Christmas flowers with poisonous leaves. (The false rumor of poisonous poinsettia leaves originated in Mexico as revenge for the way the Battle of San Jacinto went.)

But none of my research led to a clarification about what to do with poinsettias after Christmas, nor did it solve the puzzle of who was sending them to me anonymously. Sometimes I had a dozen to get rid of after Christmas. It was a problem.

As a solution one year, Marilyn transplanted them in her flower garden. The next year we gave friends poinsettias for Labor Day, but it didn’t catch on. I think that was because I attached a note that said, “If you eat this, you’ll die. Happy Labor Day.”

Then Marilyn fertilized the bejiggers out of them. To say they took off like rockets was like saying, “Jack, how tall can a beanstalk grow overnight?”

We moved them indoors before frost, but they took such a liking to our kitchen odors, they grew even taller. In fact, they took over the house.

By Thanksgiving we had to carry machetes to get to the bathroom, and at night it sounded like a Tarzan movie. We doled them out to our friends at Christmas, thereby purging our names forever from several Christmas card lists.

So I finally employed my razor-sharp investigative reporting techniques and asked the florist who had sent the anonymous poinsettias.

“Can’t tell you,” she said. “It’s in the bylaws of the Amalgamated Florists Consortium. You see, people who send poison plants like to remain anonymous.”

“Do you mean…?”

“Unsigned poinsettias are a warning,” she said. “If you get one, watch your back.”

Which still didn’t solve the nagging mystery of what to do with poinsettias after Christmas. I was left with only one recourse — grind them into confetti for New Year’s Eve. (Keep your drink covered.)

Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.