The poinsettia plant with its striking, bright red leaves features prominently in the Christmas celebrations of both the United States and Mexico. Native to Mexico, the history of the poinsettia plant also reveals the deep historical connections between the United States and Mexico.
In Mexico, the Poinsettia plant is called La Flor de la Nochebuena, Flower of the Holy Night, and is displayed in celebration of the December 12th Catholic holiday, Dia de la Virgen. This special day celebrates the Virgin of Guadalupe’s appearance to the Mexican people during the 1500’s. The festivities can include traditional music, dancing, parades, rodeos, bullfights and delicious traditional foods like bunuelos, raspados, and tortas. Pilgrims bring presents to the virgin, usually bouquets of flowers including poinsettias
In a remarkable coincidence, the United States also celebrates Poinsettia Day on December 12. The date is in remembrance of Joel Poinsett who died on that date in 1851. Poinsett was an American botanist, physician and Minister to Mexico who in 1828 sent cuttings of the intriguing new plant he’d discovered in the Taxco region of Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia Pulcherrima. The plant was given its common name by William Hickling Prescott, a historian and gardener who wished to honor Joel Poinsett for his many achievements in government and horticulture.
From the cuttings that Poinsett transported from Southern Mexico to Charleston, the poinsettia’s popularity grew rapidly. Every year, poinsettias contribute nearly $250,000,000 to the U.S. economy-at the wholesale level. Poinsettias are the best-selling potted plant in the United States and Canada.
Poinsettias never left Charleston. A past Christmas celebrated in Charleston revealed a big surprise to this Northern gardener. The moderate climate of Charleston, South Carolina means that poinsettias can thrive outside on the many large porches of the old homes in the downtown historic district. The beauty of white lights, southern architecture and the crimson red poinsettia plants of all sizes was indescribable. Walking around without a coat on Christmas Day was also very enjoyable.
When you walk past the display of Poinsettias in the grocery store this holiday season, take a moment to ponder the amazing journey traveled by this showy plant.