Joel Robert Poinsett was not only the first ambassador of Mexico, member of the House of Representatives, and Secretary of War; he also happened to have an eye for botany. During one of his trips to Mexico, Poinsett found a beautiful, red plant. In Mexico, this plant is called “Flor de Noche Buena” or the Christmas Eve flower. Poinsett sent samples back to his home in South Carolina in 1825, and by 1836 this bright plant became known as the poinsettia to most of the United States.
Poinsettias grow wildly in Mexico where a famous legend surrounds them. This story dates back to a Christmas Eve several centuries ago. A young girl had no present to offer the baby Jesus in honor of his birth. Her cousin suggested that she present a modest gift. And so on her way to mass, she picked some weeds to offer at the altar. As she entered the church and walked up the aisle, the weeds turned into beautiful, red flowers.
Poinsettias have grown to become a cherished and iconic Christmas flower. Although most people believe the red parts on a poinsettia are petals, they are actually modified leaves called bracts. The real flower is in the center of the bracts. To find the best poinsettia, look for one without pollen on the clusters in the center. Visible pollen is a sign that the colorful bracts are about to fall off.
Poinsettias can grow up to ten feet tall, but are priced based on the number of blooms. They are also called the lobster flower or the flame leaf flower. Poinsettias are not poisonous, but their sap has been known to cause skin irritation to some people. They make up 85% of potted plant sales during the holiday season and are the best selling potted plant in the United States. December 12 is National Poinsettia Day, which honors the death of their namesake, Joel Robert Poinsett.