It’s the middle of the holiday season and store shelves are lined with special gifts and holiday decorations. Halloween is past, and the Thanksgiving feasts are yesterday’s news. Popping up in most every store is the Poinsettia, an iconic red plant that signifies the coming of Christmas.

The History of the Poinsettia

In 1828, the plant also known as the Christmas Star, was introduced into the U.S. by Joel Roberts Poinsett. Joel was a botanist, a physician, and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. While living in Mexico he discovered the beautiful plant and sent one back to his home in South Carolina. We now celebrate December 12th as Poinsettia Day, as it marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851.

There is an old Mexican legend about how Poinsettias and Christmas come together, and it goes something like this.

There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up. Pepita, he said “I’m sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus happy.” Pepita didn’t know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a small bouquet. She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus. As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said. She began to feel better, knelt and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle. From that day on the bright red flowers were known as “Flores de Noche Buena” or “Flowers of the Holy Night”.

Selecting a Poinsettia

A little unknown fact, the beautiful color on a Poinsettia isn’t the flower, they are modified leaves called bracts. Poinsettias are more commonly known for their bright red color; however, now days the plant is available in many other color options such as: white, pink, burgundy, marble, and even speckled.

When choosing a Poinsettia, you will want to ensure it is money well spent; so, here are a few things to look for when selecting your plant. Inspect the leaves to ensure they are full color; no green should be showing. The Poinsettia should be lush and full, ideally the height should be 2.5 times taller than the plants diameter. Since the Poinsettia originated in Mexico, it doesn’t tolerate cold weather that well. When you are transporting home, if the temperature is below 50 degrees, make sure to cover it well until you are in the warm house.

During the holiday season, Poinsettias serve as a popular gift given to friends and family. Many businesses, churches, cemeteries, and schools also use them as a decoration in their establishments. Gifting Poinsettias is about the thought, and the meaning behind the plant. Consider adding a small personal touch when gifting a Poinsettia such as including, a little card with the history behind this Christmas plant.

Albarubescens [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons