ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The History of the Poinsettia Christmas Plant

Updated on December 29, 2013

How a Native Plant of Mexico Became Known Around the World

Thousands of years ago, the Aztecs used a plant they called Cuitlaxochitl to make red dye and ease fever. Today that same plant is known around the world as the poinsettia, a beautiful plant that produces bright red leaves during winter and is now closely associated with Christmas celebrations. How did this native plant of Mexico make the leap to world stardom? Read on to find out.

(Image of poinsettia card provided by Zazzle)

Long before Europeans came to the Americas, the Aztecs were growing poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima). They used the flowering plant to make a reddish dye and to counteract fever, and it was also used in midwinter celebrations. Today the poinsettia with its bright red leaves is a common site around the world in most countries that celebrate Christmas. But how did this plant indigenous to southern Mexico and Central America become a worldwide symbol associated with the holidays?

Legend of the Poinsettia

Mexican legend tells of a young girl who couldn't afford a gift to leave at the manger scene of the local church one Christmas Eve. As she watched others give expensive presents, she was very sad and desperately wished she had something to leave for the Baby Jesus. Then an angel appeared to the girl and told her that even the most humble gift when given with love would be acceptable. The angel told the child to gather weeds and take them back to the manager.

When the girl returned to the church, she lovingly placed the weeds by the manager and suddenly red "blossoms" sprouted and the weeds became beautiful poinsettias. It was a Christmas miracle.

Wikipedia says the legend of the poinsettia dates back to the 16th century. By the 17th century, Franciscan friars were including the plants, known as Flor de Buena Noche or Christmas Eve flower, in Christmas celebrations.

Poinsettias Come to the U.S.

The history of poinsettia starts in the United States in 1825, when Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and the first United States Minister to Mexico, sent some of the plants home to South Carolina and began propagating the plants. A historian later gave Euphorbia pulcherrima their popular name in honor of Poinsett's discovery.

The first commercial poinsettias were developed in 1829, but the plants didn't become common holiday decorations right away. The plant's eventual popularization can be largely credited to the Ecke family of southern California. Albert Ecke and his son Paul started selling and promoting poinsettias in the early 1900s and later heavily promoted the plants by appearing on shows such as Bob Hope's Christmas specials and "The Tonight Show." they also made it a point to send free poinsettias to TV stations during the holidays so the stations could display them on air.

Today the poinsettia has become a well-known part of Christmas celebrations around the world.

Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola - A book for children

The Legend of the Poinsettia
The Legend of the Poinsettia
Publishers Weekly: In the tradition of his The Legend of the Bluebonnet and The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush, dePaola offers another gracious retelling of a timeless folktale. His skillfully pared-down narrative and paintings that glow with strong colors present the story of a well-intentioned Mexican child, Lucida. Distressed because she has no other gift to offer Baby Jesus, she carries into the church an armful of weeds, each of which suddenly becomes "tipped with a flaming red star"-marking the miraculous blooming of the first poinsettias.

If you're still worrying about having your kids or pets near poinsettias - stop worrying. Despite the fact that a a 1995 survey by the American Society of Florists found that 66% of American believe poinsettias are poisonous when eaten, they're not actually poisonous. The myth was started by a doctor who incorrectly attributed a child's death to a poinsettia plant. Though incorrect, the diagnosis has led to a long-standing myth that the plants are dangerous.

Some suggest the myth continues to thrive because the name "poinsettia" sounds a bit similar to the word "poison." Others suggest the confusion may be caused by the fact that other plants in the genus Euphorbia ARE toxic. And it may simply be the fact that while poinsettias are not poisonous, they're not really edible either.

The Minnesota Poison Control System says , "The fact is that (poinsettias) are not poisonous. Nor are they edible and it can be expected that, when eaten in quantity, they may cause stomach upset with possible vomiting. This may happen when an overactive puppy devours an entire plant. In the case of a child who eats a single leaf, no ill effects would be expected."

Or to put it in the words of Dr. Edward Krenzelok, Director of Pittsburgh Poison Center, in an interview with NPR: "There was a Swiss physician from the Middle Ages by the name of Paracelsus who said everything is poisonous and what differentiates a poison from a remedy is the dose. And that's sort of it with poinsettia. If you eat enough, you'll become ill."

And how much would that be? quotes the POISINDEX saying a child would have to eat more than 500-600 leaves to exceed the doses that have been tested.

So unless your child or pet is planning to eat an entire field of poinsettias, the plants should pose no danger.

(Image of poinsettia plant by Classic_Cat on Zazzle)

Free Christmas Music

Every day in December, Amazon offers free Christmas music downloads

You Might Also Like... - More pages about Christmas

Trivia About Your Favorite Family Holiday Movies
Studio executives though A Charlie Brown Christmas would be a flop, and Dr. Seuss didn't want Boris Karloff to do the voice of the Grinch. Surprised? Read on...

Fun Stocking Stuffers for Men, Women and Kids
Looking for fun stocking stuffers for the special people in your life? You've come to the right place. This page has a collection of fun, silly and creative ...

Santa History: From Saint Nicholas to Santa Claus
Santa Claus is now a very familiar figure during the holidays, but the roly-poly, bearded man in a red suit we know today evolved over many years. The legend...

Rudolph & Bumble the Abominable Snowman
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. And undoubtedly you've heard of Rudolph. But how many other characters can you name from the 1964 TV specia...

Where to Get a Nice List Certificate from Santa Claus
Who's on Santa's Nice List on this year? If your kids have been on their best behavior and you want to reward them, why not surprise them with a Nice List ce...

Musical Advent Calendar
An Advent Calendar is a fun way to keep track of exactly how many days are left before Christmas. They come in a wide variety of styles, from simple throwawa...

Kids Will Love a Letter from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Santa Claus isn't the only popular Christmas character who can send letters to kids during the holidays. You can also get a personalized letter from Rudolph ...

My Favorite Charlie Brown Christmas Song
When I was young, my two favorite Christmas shows were "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." I loved the mess...

Article revised from The History of Poinsettia Plants on HubPages


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)