Nothing conjures up images of a traditional Christmas celebration quite like the rich, velvety poinsettia plant. Since these blooms have become so tightly connected with the winter holidays, we bet you didn’t know they’re actually tropical! Here’s how Christmas poinsettias became the ultimate holiday flower.
The History of Poinsettias
The Aztecs once called poinsettias “Cuetlaxochitl,” which meant “mortal flower that perishes and withers like all that is pure,” and used them to dye their clothing and cure illnesses. They believed that red was the color of wholesomeness, so they often included poinsettias in their religious rituals.
The plant wasn’t introduced to America until the 19th century, when U.S. ambassador and botanist Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett traveled toMexicoand discovered it in the Mexican wilderness. He was so enamored with the leafy blossoms that he sent some to his home inSouth Carolina. As time passed, the poinsettia—which was officially named after its American founder—caught on and became a staple of Christmas celebrations in homes all over the country. An official holiday was even created in honor of the wildly popular plant: National Poinsettia Day, which is celebrated on December 12.
But how did the poinsettia plant become associated with Christmas? A popular Mexican legend says that a poor girl once wanted to offer Jesus a large, fancy gift on Christmas Eve, but she couldn’t afford to buy one. But an angel suddenly appeared to her and explained that any kind of gift would do, no matter how humble it was, as long as it was given with love. The angel then instructed the girl to pick weeds and bring them to the church. When the girl did as the angel said, the weeds turned into exquisite red poinsettias, and that is how the miraculous flower became a part of the Christmas celebration.