How the poinsettia came to be known as the Christmas flower.

December 12 was National Poinsettia Day - an annual celebration of this traditional flowering plant.

Poinsettias in all their glory are available in local stores and nurseries beginning at the end of November. Fresh poinsettias are the star of any table setting during the festive season. They can be found in many colours including white which coordinates with any theme at Christmas. Moreover, they embellish Christmas cards, ornaments, Christmas stockings… so it is easy to see that we are enamored with this pretty flower.

 

Bright poinsettia painted by Louise Primeau.
Bright Christmas Poinsettia.

The history of the poinsettia and Christmas.

Joel Roberts Poinsett, US Ambassador to Mexico and a passionate botanist introduced this plant to the US in the early 19th century.

The Aztecs cultivated this plant well before European colonization. Besides decoration, the Aztecs used the plant for red and purple dyes as well as for its medicinal properties found in the white sap.

After missionaries arrived in Mexico, Franciscan friars would decorate Nativity scenes with the plant that was in bloom in December. A legend says that a poor girl brought weeds to church as a gift for the baby Jesus.  When the weeds were placed on the altar, they began to flower and were named la flor de Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve flower.

Poinsett loved the flower and brought it home in 1828. After successfully cultivating it in his greenhouse, he began to give the plant to friends. The plant became known as the Poinsettia in his honour. While this is how we know the plant today, there is a movement to rename the plant by its original Aztec name, “cuetlaxochitl”. History has not forgotten that Poinsett was a slave owner.

No matter the name, the poinsettia remains, along with the Christmas tree, a beautiful symbol of Christmas.

2 Responses

    • I will research that flower which has a very exotic name. The ground is covered in snow so the only flower I could sketch would be those we have indoors…at the moment, in our home that would be poinsettia, orchid, Christmas cactus. Thank you for stopping by! I look forward to seeing your sketch.

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