Poinsettias are synonymous with Christmas. You can’t walk into a grocery store or garden center without spotting a full display of the Christmas flower. Although I had always known poinsettias were connected to Christmas somehow, I was unaware of how this plant (indigenous to Mexico and Central America) gained its title and popularity. So, if you are like me and aren’t familiar with the history, here are a few interesting facts.
- The poinsettia was made widely known because of a man called Joel Roberts Poinsett. He was the first Ambassador from the USA to Mexico in 1825. Poinsett had some greenhouses on his plantations in South Carolina, and while visiting the Taco area in 1828, he became very interested in the plants. He immediately sent some of the plants back to South Carolina, where he began growing the plants and sending them to friends and botanical gardens. Soon after it was marketed by Robert Buist under the botanical, Euphorbia pulcherrima (meaning “the most beautiful Euphorbia”)
- Euphorbia pulcherrima is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 2 ft -13 ft. The plant bears dark green leaves that measure 2.8–6.3 in. in length. The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color. (source Wikipedia)
- The plant’s association with Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico, where legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday and was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.
- The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ, the white leaves represent his purity.
- In the United States, December 12th is National Poinsettia Day.
Poinsettias make great hostess gifts and beautiful ornaments for your indoor or outdoor Christmas displays. My favorites are the pastels tones and I love to add them into my centerpiece throughout the season. And, the best part of all, now you can share your knowledge of where the poinsettia came from and appear witty and charming at your next Christmas gathering. 😉