Your answer is most likely the poinsettia. Native to Central America and Mexico, this gorgeous plant found its way to North America thanks to a fellow named Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico.
Poinsett was the son of a French physician and although he attended medical school, he found that his real passion in the field of science was botany. While visiting the Taxco del Alarcon area in Southern Mexico in 1828, he fell in love with the poinsettias growing wild. He immediately sent some back to his home state of South Carolina where he maintained hot houses, and began to propagate them for friends and botanical gardens. The plant began to spread among circles and by about 1836, the plant began to be known as a poinsettia, its namesake from the man who brought it to our country. In honor of Poinsett, the United States Congress declared December 12 National Poinsettia Day, the same day of Poinsett’s death in 1851.
In its country of origin, the poinsettia holds its own rich history and legends. The Aztecs used the plant for many purposes; they used it to decorate with, to extract a purplish-red dye used in cosmetics and textiles, and as a medicine. The milky white sap was mixed into a tonic to reduce fevers.
Its association with Christmas, however, began in the 16th Century in Mexico when the beautiful story is told of a young girl who was too poor to buy a gift to bring to the altar for Jesus’ birthday. An angel visited her and encouraged the girl to pick weeds from the side of the road to place at the foot of the altar. Vermillion colored flowers sprung from the weeds and became dazzling poinsettias. Those who were watching felt they had witnessed a Christmas miracle. From that day forward, bright red flowers were known as Flores de Noche Buena or Flowers of the Holy Night. As they bloom each year during the season of Christmas, the legend of the poinsettia was born.
With its star like formation said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and its red color representing the blood sacrifice of the crucifixion of Jesus, it is no wonder we decorate our homes and give gifts of poinsettias at Christmas time.
We have some of the most vibrant selections of poinsettias in Houston. Stop by and pick up your poinsettias this week before National Poinsettia Day and if you haven’t put up a Christmas tree yet, we have plenty left!