Poinsettias and Christmas: A Brief History

The poinsettia, Euphorbia Pulcherrima, is a beautiful plant with a rich history in multiple cultures. For Americans, its red and green coloring immediately evokes the idea of Christmas, but it has roots that stretch much further back than the founding of this country.

The poinsettia has captivated humans for centuries, with the first recorded instance dating all the way back to the 14th century. But how did the poinsettia become associated with Christmas? And from where does the poinsettia originate?

The answer to both of these questions begins in Mexico, though in different eras. It was originally beloved for its medicinal properties as well as its beauty. Later, it became associated with Christmas through Mexican traditions and American entrepreneurship.

Poinsettia origins

Poinsettias were used in Mexico in the 14th century for medicinal and other purposes. The milky white sap of the plant was used to treat fever symptoms, and it was also used to create red and purple dyes for textiles. They weren’t called poinsettias at this time (or even Euphorbia Pulcherrima); the original name that humans gave these plants was cuetlaxochitl.

This was the life of the poinsettia until the 17th century. By then, it was a well-known decorative plant in Mexican traditions. Around this time, Franciscan monks in the small town of Taxco de Alarcon began to feature the plant in their nativity processions.

What’s in a name?

It would be a couple hundred more years until anyone even uttered the word poinsettia. It wasn’t until 1828 that the plant became known to American society. This is the year that U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Joel Roberts Poinsett, a skilled botanist, was introduced to the plant on a diplomatic trip to Mexico.

He shipped some of the plants back to his greenhouse in the United States for further study and cultivation. Soon after this, it was beginning to be cultivated and sold in the Pennsylvania area under its botanical name, Euphorbia Pulcherrima, and by 1836, it was being referred to as poinsettias after the man who introduced it to the United States.

A star is born

It can’t be said for certain if the poinsettia’s origins with holiday traditions in 17th century Mexico had anything to do with the popularity of the plant during Christmastime in the modern-day United States. Hollywood had a lot to do with popularizing the plant as an indoor holiday staple in the early 20th century—but maybe not in the way you’d expect.

It wasn’t the movies that made poinsettias a star but the sales at roadside stands in Hollywood that helped spread the word. They caught on quickly, and by 1923, Paul Ecke, who had developed the first poinsettias that were able to be grown indoors in pots, opened a nursery that today supplies the bulk of potted poinsettias in the United States.

Now that you know from where the poinsettia originated, you can entertain your holiday guests with the story when they comment on your beautiful and festive potted plants. For the most spectacular poinsettias and other holiday plants, contact The Delicate Daisy – House of Flowers today.