Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Amongst the myriad decorations available this time of year is the red Christmas poinsettia. Also known as euphorbia pulcherrima, the poinsettia is a native plant of Mexico and originated in a rather limited region near present day Taxco. This lovely plant received its American name in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the country in 1828 when he sent cuttings of the plant he had discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. 

In Mexico, the plant is known as La Flor de Noche Buena, which means Flower of the Holy Night, or Christmas Eve.

Legend has it that a Mexican peasant girl had no means to offer a gift to the Christ Child in church on Holy Night. She picked some roadside weeds on the way and made a bouquet. But when the time came for her to present the gift, the bouquet of weeds had transformed into red Christmas poinsettias. From this story came the Christmas poinsettia tradition.

The little yellow buds are the flowers.
Interestingly enough, the brightly colored part of the plant is not the flower. Instead the flowers are the small, yellow buds in the poinsettia’s center. The colored portions are just leaves. 

Poinsettias are also known as the “lobster flower” or “Mexican flame leaf.” In Chile and Peru, the Poinsettia is called the "Crown of the Andes".  In Spain the poinsettia is associated with Easter. There it’s known as "Flor de Pascua," meaning "Easter flower".

(And in case you’ve heard rumors that poinsettias are fatal to pets and children, they're not. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, it’s only mildly toxic when ingested. The worst it can cause is irritation of the mouth and stomach, or in some cases, vomiting.)


  1. I think Poinsettias are one of my favorite things about Christmas decorations. They're always so happy. I have some silk ones I put out every year, but I also always have to get a couple of real ones. I doesn't seem like Christmas with my poinsettias.
    2 Kids and Tired Books

  2. Holly, I have great memories of poinsettias. I associate them with my grandmother, who has since gone home. I think they're happy, too. :-)


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