Let us now consider the plight of the lowly red poinsettia plant, unfairly dissed and dismissed from public view for “religious connotations,” by the Toxic Titans of Political Correctness in the formerly noble Minnesota city of St. Paul.

After St. Paul mucketymucks, in their infinite wisdom, oh-so-sensitive-to-the-pulsebeat-of-public opinion, banned red poinsettias from holiday floral displays at the county courthouse this year – either because the metal detectors installed after Sept. 11 left no room for the flowers, or because they claim they’d received “complaints red poinsettias were a Christian symbol,” or both – someone took matters into their own hands.

This was following a wimpy compromise effort to stifle ensuing discord and controversy, wherein county officials substituted the blah white variety, as a sop to the seasonally challenged.

Overnight, this proactive and visionary someone, apparently seeing red at the gutless edict quashing the courthouse tradition, smuggled several of the offending plants into City Hall, so the Star Tribune says, installing them among the other holiday flowers “at the feet of the Vision of Peace statue.”

Yay! Right where they belong, and, I say, “Right On!”

This may go down in history as “The Great RED (Poinsettia) Scare of 2001.”

I’m wondering if the ACLU has rushed forward to offer red poinsettias legal representation for a possible class-action suit against such unwarranted restrictions of their rights of assembly, free speech, and, uh, diversity?

But seriously, folks, aren’t those Minnesota guys – and they are mostly guys involved in this lunacy – taking this politically correct stuff a leetle too seriously? Confusing, as they say in General Semantics, the word with the thing, the map with the territory, or, if you want to bandy heavy-duty structural linguistics terms about, the signifier with the signified?

Here they are, with this country currently facing grave global threats, yet they would bother wasting time even considering such absurd, meaningless tripe?

As Bobby Jay the beach philosopher would say, “It’s just a plant, babe, just a plant!”

Whichever way you slice it, their decree steenks.

This is not the first time poinsettias have been wrongly accused. For decades, they were targeted as poisonous to animals and small children, but that toxic canard was discredited. They are, however, inedible, so don’t pop ’em into your mouth like, well, Christmas candy.

Way back, legend has it, Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, had poinsettias brought into what now is Mexico City by caravans, because the plants apparently would not grow in high altitudes. But poinsettias are definitely not Montezuma’s Revenge.

Poinsettias’ botanical name – Euphorbia pulcherima – means “very beautiful.”

Native to southern Mexico and Guatemala as a large shrub or small tree, poinsettias typically bloom in November and December and were first brought to the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett, the USA’s first ambassador to Mexico, who was also a skilled botanist.

Apparently, the Aztecs had grown poinsettias in Mexico far in advance of the Europeans’ arrival on this continent. The Aztecs called poinsettias “Cuetlaxochitle” and used the plants’ bracts – those showy red, pink, white, yellow, bicolored or speckled “leaves,” actually modified foliage – to make a reddish-purple dye, and the latex sap to counteract fevers.

Poinsettias were widely planted in Mexican gardens, and also played a part in midwinter celebrations.

“In reality, the poinsettia was cultivated by the Aztecs of Mexico long before the introduction of Christianity to the Western Hemisphere. Some of the first religious connotations were placed on poinsettias during the 17th century when, because of its brilliant color and holiday bloom, Franciscan priests in Mexico began to use the flower in nativity processions,” according to Indiana University’s Hilltop Garden and Nature Center.

Poinsettias even occupy a pretty parcel of American political history.

Appointed to his ambassadorial post by President Andrew Jackson in the 1820s when Mexico was involved in a civil war, Joel Poinsett is credited with talks that led to the purchase of Texas. Because of his interest in botany, he introduced the American Elm into Mexico. During his stay there, he’d wander the countryside looking for new plant species and, in 1828, so the story goes, he found a beautiful shrub with large red flowers by a roadside. He took cuttings from the plant and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina, and the rest is a variegated mixture of myth, history and misinformation.

Isn’t it ironic – even though Joel Poinsett had an outstanding career as a United States congressman and as an ambassador who brokered our Texas deal, he’s perhaps best remembered for introducing the poinsettia into the United States? Although I can’t be sure, I suspect he’d shudder at the notion his beloved poinsettias were suddenly lumped in with America’s other “outlaw plants” – poppies, pot, hemp.

One wonders what holiday plant these politically correct cranks will ban next? Red holly, with its exuberant thorns and alluring berries, as an Attractive Nuisance?

Deck the Halls!

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