You’ve almost certainly seen the lovely poinsettia, but do you know about poinsettia history? You can find this vibrant plant with rich red petals and impressive green foliage thanks to a man named Joel Roberts Poinsett. He brought these Christmas plants from Mexico to the rest of the world, and gives it its name. But how did the Poinsettia travel from Mexico around the globe? What makes it such an iconic Christmas flower? Why do so many people use it as a gift for Christmas?
What is the Poinsettia?
It might seem obvious that the poinsettia is a plant, but did you know it actually no flowers? The bright red portions of the plant are actually a specialized leaf, so it’s more like a shrub than a flowers. They are a hearty plant that’s easy to keep indoors and out, and it blooms easily and elegantly in the winter. This makes the poinsettia a perfect holiday gift as it thrives with little effort, provided you keep frost from damaging it.
Now, more poinsettia history. The plant originated in Mexico, but has spread across the world and is offered in 100 different varieties. It’s most often found planted neatly in pots and displayed proudly on desks or in office corners. The flowers gained popularity as Christmas gifts because of legends associating it to Christmas. One popular tale in poinsettia history from Mexico tells about a little girl wanted to give a gift to Jesus, but could only find humble weeds. Her brother assures her that it is the effort and thought that matters, not the physical gift itself. Upon placing the weeds in church for Jesus they blossomed into the fiery red plant that has become so iconic, and thus the Poinsettia was born.
This iconic imagery has withstood the test of time, and the Poinsettia remains a favorite gift during Christmas.
Why are Poinsettias so popular?
Other than its legendary ties to Christmas, the poinsettia has had many uses. The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dyes, as well as medication. Called “Cuitlaxochitl” in Nahuatl, the native language of the Aztecs, its name translates roughly to “flower that grows in soil”. It might be a bit direct, but they saw the plant as a practical one.
Because of its practical use the flower was cultivated a lot in Mexico, and as generations and cultures grew, so did the lore surrounding it. Associations of poinsettias with Christmas starting in the 16th century ensured the plant would be revered for generations.
Who was Joel Roberts Poinsett?
The credit for this shrub’s international popularity goes to Joel Roberts Poinsett. He was the first US Ambassador to Mexico, and an avid botany enthusiast. When he first saw the plant known then as the “Cuetlaxochitl” in Mexico, he fell in love. He immediately sent the plant back home to his nursery and began growing and cultivating it, sending potted plants to his friends, family, and associates.
The plant quickly became popular because of its striking features and heartiness. It was known to quite literally grow through floors! While the plant already had a name in Mexico, the name Poinsettia stuck in English-speaking countries as a tribute to the man who made it such an international hit.
Why does everyone have it?
Poinsettias have been given to so many people for so many years, it might feel a bit like cheating to use it as a holiday gift. However it’s precisely because of its history as the perfect Christmas plant that it carries weight and symbolism far beyond the beauty of its leaves. Like the Christmas tree you decorate with your family, the poinsettia has become an unforgettable holiday symbol.
The stunning plant is a beacon of love and joy. It symbolizes giving the most you have to give no matter how small, and thriving even when no one expects you to. This season when you find poinsettias lining store windows and creeping into offices spaces, take a moment to appreciate the amazing journey from dye, to medicine, to international sensation this little shrub took. You may decide to give your family and friends something else, but now you’ll know why you should be extra appreciative if someone sends you a potted poinsettia.
If you’re itching to get your hands on a poinsettia you’ve come to the right place!
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