The Poinsettia and the Palm

When my late father-in-law became very ill, he and my mother-in-law had to move out of their long-time home to live with other family members, in order to be cared for.

When they moved, one of the things that moved with them was a small, pretty poinsettia plant. It had started in a pot and then was planted. My mother-in-law loved that little plant, and it was transplanted from her flower bed to one of my sisters-in-law’s planters. After my father-in-law passed away, my mother-in-law moved in with another of my sisters-in-law, and the little poinsettia was transplanted again. Amazingly, the pretty thing survived another transplanting.

After about a year or so, my mother-in-law moved out of the state and across the country. Once again, because she loved that little plant, she tried to find it a good home, afraid it would not survive the long journey. Once again, it was transplanted, this time in our front yard. We all hoped it would survive its fourth home and third transplantation, and she made the long trek with family 2,400 miles away from Southern California.

My wife and I planted it in a little patch of ground between a miniature yellow rose and a somewhat scrawny little miniature palm. The poinsettia wasn’t all that big, and I just hoped it would make it. Its few red leaves would go well with the yellow roses…I mean, those are USC colors, after all! The poinsettia looked cute, and we almost forgot about it.

But what happened next, over the course of just 18 months, was stunning.

Not only did the poinsettia survive, it began to grow. Then not only grow, but thrive. And thrive. And thrive. And thrive! My late mother had grown many poinsettia plants, so I grew up helping her care for them, as well as my mother’s award-winning Jackson and Perkins roses. But I had never seen anything like this before!

And the most amazing thing wasn’t just the size and color and perfection of every leaf on the poinsettia, or that the palm was the healthiest it had ever been. It’s the fact that the poinsettia and the palm had become inseparably intertwined. The poinsettia and the palm had this remarkable symbiotic relationship. They were thriving together more than either one had ever thrived alone.

Here is what the one palm and the one poinsettia plant look like now.

What’s fascinating is that they are, for all intents and purposes, truly inseparable; at this point, you could not separate and remove just one of them. You would have to somehow remove them both together. The two have become one. And they are thriving beyond all expectations. Together, they are a beautiful, magnificent, botanical phenomenon. People walking by or driving through our neighborhood regularly stop to look at the sight. Some take pictures. Older folks make sweet comments. Everyone smiles and shakes their head in disbelief.

Together, the poinsettia and the palm are unique and lovely beyond compare.

In addition to being a great analogy for marriage, I believe this is also a great analogy for a student and a Christian school.

A student—and a family—can survive in another setting. A student can make it in a public school. They can survive. They might even be able to survive and appear healthy after being transplanted numerous times. Maybe.

But after 34 years in both public and private education, I can tell you from personal and professional experience that there is something remarkable about what happens in the life of a child—and a Christian school—when the right match occurs. Both blossom. Both feel loved. Both achieve. Both thrive. Both are blessed beyond what either one could have accomplished alone, beyond what anyone could have imagined before they were planted so closely together.

Together, they are a marvel to behold.

This is why we exist at Alta Loma Christian School. We exist to blossom and grow and thrive and do remarkable things together with your child and your family, together with other children and other families. When this happens, the world takes notice. It can’t help it. Because like the poinsettia and the palm, our children and our school are a wonderful exception to what is normally seen and experienced outside our gates. We can’t pass by without doing a double-take. It stops us in our tracks. It gives us goosebumps. It stirs our soul.

The community and the world are beginning to take notice of our kids. Our students are beginning to do things other students at other schools don’t. That’s because our kids have teachers and opportunities and a worldview and a school with a unique vision that their peers in other places haven’t discovered yet.

And that makes all the difference.

By the way, you may ask why that poinsettia was—and still is—so precious to my mother-in-law. It’s just a plant, right?
Well, you see, it was one of the last gifts my late father-in-law gave her before he became incapacitated with cancer. And their marriage of 58 years bore a remarkable resemblance to the poinsettia and the palm.

When she saw the photo of her poinsettia and the palm that is pictured in this article, she wept. And her tears were streams of joy and deep reminiscence and thanksgiving to God…

Plant your children well, my friends. We’ll see you around campus.

Dr. Vance Nichols
Head of School
Alta Loma Christian School

Dr. Nichols (BS, MS, EdD) also serves as Commissioner and Chair of the ACSI Southern California Regional Accreditation Commission, and was an educational researcher, organizational leadership theorist, and 2015 Innovation Scholar at the University of Southern California. His most recent published research may be accessed online at: