Note: parts of this blog are references from Phoenix Flower Shop’s Blog ‘The Legend and History of the Poinsettia’.
Have you ever seen these brilliant red blooms popping up around Christmas time and wondered when it was they became such a festive flower? The Poinsettia has a few names and stories to share – all of which make it worthy of being the iconic seasonal symbol it is today.
The plant we know today as the poinsettia has long and interesting history. Native to Central America, the plant flourished in an area of Southern Mexico known as Taxco del Alarcon.
The Aztecs used the plant for both decorative and practical purposes. They extracted a purplish dye for use in textiles and cosmetics from the plant’s bracts. The milky white sap (today called latex) was made into a preparation to treat fevers.
The poinsettia may have remained a regional plant for many years to come had it not been for the efforts of Joel Roberts Poinsett: the son of a French physician. Poinsett was appointed as the first United States Ambassador to Mexico (1825-1829), but his true passions lay in botany. When he discovered the flower, he had to send some home to propagate in his own greenhouses!
The flowers borrow their name from Joel Roberts Poinsett.
The Christmas Story
A charming story is told of Pepita, a poor Mexican girl who had no gift to present the Christ Child at Christmas Eve Services:
As Pepita walked slowly to the chapel with her cousin Pedro to celebrate the Christmas service, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy.
“I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes," said Pedro consolingly.
Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggly bunch of weeds, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. She fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel.
As she approached the altar, she remembered Pedro's kind words: "Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes." She felt her spirit lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes.
From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season and thus, the legend of the poinsettia was born.