Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

December 2023
Written By: 
Grand Strand Magazine Staff
Photographs by: 
courtesy of shutterstock

The poinsettia, though indigenous to Mexico and Central America, derives its common name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. In the 1820s, the South Carolina resident sent some sprigs back home to his greenhouse in Greenville, thus beginning its more world-wide appreciation.

- Congress formally recognized December 12 as National Poinsettia Day in 2002 to honor Poinsett and mark his death on that day in 1851. According to Mexican popular culture, if you receive a poinsettia plant as a gift it will bring you good luck and prosperity.

- Today, poinsettias are available in more than one hundred varieties, but mostly sold in vibrant red, pink, white and marbled colors. With more than 35 million sold annually, the pre-Columbian plant is the best-selling potted bloom in the United States, contributing roughly $250 million to the economy. Most are sold in a six-week stretch leading up to the Christmas holiday.

- In southern Mexico, where the poinsettia blooms in winter, the Aztecs in pre-Columbian times, used the poinsettia bracts (leaves) to make a reddish-purple dye for fabrics and cosmetics, while its sap was used medicinally to help control fevers. The actual “flowers” of the plant are inconspicuous beads found in the middle of the bracts.

- The poinsettia became enormously popular on an industrial scale in the early 19th century, when German immigrant Albert Ecke began growing them in California. He discovered a technique which caused seedlings to branch, resulting in a fuller plant. He began growing the plant in the tens of thousands for the Christmas season, when other flowers were scarce.