The Poinsettia is an international symbol for Christmas, known in Mexico as "La Flor de Nochebuena," which translates to "The Flower of the Holy Night," and to botanists as Euphorbia pulcherrima. The red and green hues of the Poinsettia are found everywhere from hardware stores to cathedrals during the month of December, and the history of the Poinsettia is as fascinating as its ubiquitous bold leaves! To celebrate National Poinsettia Day, and our new Poinsettia table linens, we’re sharing the story of the Yuletide plant!
Often mistaken for a flower, the Poinsettia’s red “petals” are actually leaves. The Poinsettia's flowers are actually small, yellow and green! In the United States we usually see Poinsettias only during the coldest months of the year, so it may be easy to forget that Poinsettias are tropical plants, native to Mexico and Guatemala.
Poinsettias first arrived to the United States in the 19th century thanks to Joel Robert Poinsett, the first US ambassador to Mexico and an avid amateur botanist. Poinsett first encountered La Flor de Nochebuena in Taxco de Alarcón, a town just south of Mexico City. He was so taken by the plant that he sent samples back to his greenhouse in South Carolina.
However, the rich history of the Poinsettia predates Poinsett's discovery and its stateside name. Historians note that the Aztecs had many special uses for the Poinsettia and their own name for the Flame Flower, Cuitlaxochitl, which translates to "flower that grows in residues or soil.”
The origin of the Poinsettia as a Christmas staple can be attributed to the legend of the flower which dates back to 17th-century Mexico. Legend has it that a girl named Pepita (or sometimes Maria) wanted to give a gift on Christmas Eve to honor Jesus’ birthday, but she could not afford one. An angel came to her and suggested that it didn’t matter what the gift was, it was the thought that counted! So Pepita picked some weeds from the side of the road and headed to the festivities. When she brought the plants into the church, they bloomed into the beautiful red and green leaves we know today.
So when you head to the grocery store next weekend to purchase your holiday dinner provisions, take a moment to appreciate the potted Poinsettias. Their beautiful red leaves have inspired humans for centuries and continue to make the holiday season bold and bright.