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The History of the Christmas Flower: Poinsettia

Did you know that the Poinsettia didn’t come to the United States until 1828?  Joel Roberts Poinsett, a medical student that lived in South Carolina, was the very first Ambassador to Mexico appointed by President Madison.  He fell in love with this beautiful plant while he was there and brought several back home to his family’s plantation to grow in the greenhouse.  This plant was called “Cuetlaxochitl” in Mexico and were mainly used for medicinal purposes.

The Cuetlaxochitl actually grows as a tree in Mexico.  In the 1800’s the plant was found to be useful for first aid.  The milky white sap was used to treat or reduce fevers.  The Aztecs extracted a purple dye from the plant which was used in cosmetics.   

Once back home in South Carolina, Poinsett propagated his new find and sent several cuttings out to friends and relatives in other regions of the United States, as well as to several botanical gardens.  Although he was a medical student, he had a great love for botany and this love would remain with him throughout his life.  Poinsett was responsible for cultivating the Cuetlaxochitl into the plant we know today as the poinsettia, as in Mexico it grew to the size of a tree.

A fellow botanist, Robert Buist, sold the beautiful plant as “Euphorbia pulcherrima” which means “beautiful.”  Buist had fallen in love with the bright leaves and blooms of this vivid new plant.  But that wasn’t all that captured his attention. He was mystified with the plant’s strength.  Buist noticed that this plant’s roots had grown through the cracks in the flooring in his greenhouse.  

The Poinsettia got its name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, who first brought the plant to the United States. It is celebrated on December 12th of every year to celebrate both the life and death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who passed away on that very same day. The Poinsettia is known as the Christmas Flower by many and is no doubt the most popular Christmas flower in the United States.  Today, December 12th is noted as National Poinsettia Day.  

And now you know the story behind the poinsettia and how it was introduced to the United States.


Photo:  Pixabay


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Written by Karen Gros

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