Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are a mainstay of Christmas decorations, but it may interest you to know that these fiery red flowers so often associated with snow and ice hail from a much warmer climate. Poinsettias are native to Southern Mexico, where the Aztecs once used them for decorations and as a source of dye and medicine. This plant owes both its introduction into North America and its namesake to Roberts Poinsett, first US ambassador to Mexico.
Poinsett brought the plant back to South Carolina in the 1830s and cultivated it in his botanical garden. Poinsett shared plants with friends who were also botanical enthusiasts and by the early 1900s, poinsettias were sold as decorations throughout the USA. In the winter-time, the plant produces flowers, which are actually special leaves called “bracts,” so they naturally lend themselves to being Christmas decorations. The scarlet bracts remind some of the star of Bethlehem, as well as the blood Christ shed on the cross. In Mexico, Christians have a legend that poinsettias miraculously appeared after a peasant girl offered some humble weeds as a gift for the Christ child in a Nativity crèche. Whether it you see poinsettias as a reminder of Christ’s birth or the transformative power of loving generosity, this bright, cheery plant is sure to warm up your holiday.