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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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December 14, 2007

The problem with poinsettias

It isn’t that they’re poisonous.

That long-held belief that had us all carefully placing these plants that say “Christmas” out of the reach of children and pets, fearing that they’d be tempted to sample one of the bright leaves long considered toxic. But the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C. , says that’s a myth.

Not to worry.

Except—it turns out that their proliferation in holiday use throughout our country, in homes and malls and churches, some 60 million projected to be sold at a cost of $220 million this Christmas season, may be toxic in a more serious way. The Chicago Tribune ran a story in its Perspective section that pointed out the enormous cost to the environment of growing these plants that are native to Mexico. They need heat: They can’t survive below 55 degrees. But not too much heat. So the growers use natural gas to warm their greenhouses and fans to cool them. Poinsettias guzzle fossil fuels, when grown outside their comfort zone.

We don’t think about that, of course. But perhaps we should. Can you picture a Christmas without poinsettias? Can you think about giving up a tradition, a way of life...once we realize the impact on the environment?

I’ve clipped the Trib article and will share it with my congregation’s altar guild. But I also wrote out my check for $11 to buy one to decorate our sanctuary this Christmas. And I checked the box indicating it is being given “to the Glory of God.” But I wonder.

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