When I first moved into my renovated farmhouse, a huge poinsettia flopped over the rubble wall from the neighbouring, semi-wild garden of a disused palazzo. For two years, its stunning flame-red leaves (bracts) did the business at Christmas and far surpassed the hot-house varieties available in the garden centres.
Sadly, by year three in our home, the grand house next door was purchased and the old garden ripped out to make way for a pool. The pool-side facilities’ building now stands where the straggly poinsettia once did. I’ve planted a flame-red bougainvillea up my side now, and it too is in flower for Christmas, but somehow it’s not the archetypal festive flower that the poinsettia is.
But drive around Malta at Christmas time and you’ll find many small front yard gardens with poinsettias. They’ve become a popular frontage feature, and have quite taken hold, even in rougher waste grounds near residential areas. It is currently vying for our attention alongside myriad ‘Santas’ climbing in through balconies!
Come to the islands other times in the year though, and you wouldn’t notice the almost bare, somewhat ungainly branches of this overgrown bush cum small tree. It’s not very pretty when not in flower.
But today, let’s hear it for Malta’s splendid non-native flower as it’s often called the ‘Star of Bethlehem’. In its native Mexico and Guatemala it’s known as ‘Noche Buena’, meaning Christmas Eve. Although in Spain, it has shifted religious festival as it’s called “Flor de Pascua”, meaning Easter flower.
If you’ve a potted one on your hall table, then good luck in keeping it alive throughout the 12 days of Christmas. It takes skill to keep it moist, but not too moist, and not let it dry out. Mine has already yellowed and dropped leaves. So I mourn the loss of my neighbour’s poinsettia that never was to grace her garden at Christmas, as it once did mine…
Photo: Robert Simmons