Joel Roberts Poinsett was an Ambassador to Mexico. President John Quincy Adams appointed him in the 1800’s. During his time in Mexico he enjoyed visiting the countryside for plants. He came across the red flowered plant that would someday have his name. When he returned to the United States, he brought cuttings to a friend who was a horticulturist. Some articles state he had a greenhouse and found the plant in the corner of the greenhouse, coming up through the brick.
This plant has many uses in its native country of Mexico. The Aztecs used this plant to treat fevers, for decoration, and textiles. It was also used for measuring gold. We have adapted this plant as our Christmas holiday flower. There are many theories of the origin and meaning of the poinsettia plant.
Why did this plant become associated with our Christmas traditions? There are many legends behind the origin of its use at Christmas. One was about a child that did not have a gift to carry to the chapel on Christmas Eve. She stopped along the road and picked weeds and made a bouquet. The flowers are said to bloom with bright red flowers when placed on the altar. Poinsettias are called the “Flower of the Holy Night” because their red bracts are said to represent the flaming Star of Bethlehem.
In America, the first poinsettias were sold in Pennsylvania. It took until the 1900’s before the flowers were produced for commercial production. One of the most interesting facts about poinsettias is that the colorful parts of the plant are not petals – they are modified leaves called bracts. This flower has come a long way from it’s beginnings in Mexico!
Many of us believe that the poinsettia is a poisonous plant. It does contain a latex sap that could make an animal sick. The Ohio State University has studied the plant and has determined that at least 50 leaves would need to be eaten by a child of about fifty pounds to be lethal.
There have been changes in this flower. One is that it’s not always red. Variation of colors and sizes have been developed. If you like red, then this is your holiday plant! You can always find pink white, and variations of these colors, as well.
Do you decorate with poinsettias? Post some photos of your holiday decor below in the comments using this festive plant.