Today, December 12, marks National Poinsettia Day. While nowadays this vibrant red plant is most commonly recognized as a popular Christmas plant, its original use was quite different. The poinsettia is native to Mexico and the Aztecs referred to it as Cuetlaxochitl, meaning “flower that withers, mortal flower that perishes like all that is pure.” Cultivated by the gods, Aztec King Montezuma had his palace decorated with the plant, whose blood red color symbolized the gods’ sacrifice for the universe creation and the repayment humans would have to make in return. Additionally, the Aztecs used the Cuetlaxochitl’s sap as a cure for fevers and the leaves for making dyes.
The lively plant was first used in a Christian ceremony occurred in the 17th century when Franciscan missionaries settled in Southern Mexico, and used it during the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre, a nativity procession. It is around then that legends of how the plant, also called “la flor de Nochebuena,” which translates into the flower of Holy Night or Christmas Eve, got its rich color. One such story tells the tale of a poor Mexican girl named Pepita who was devastated that she was unable to buy a gift for baby Jesus. An angel who appears to Pepita while she is crying instructing her to gather weeds, and when Pepita’s tears fall, they changed the bundle of weeds into magnificent red blooms.
In 1828, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the new Republic of Mexico’s first Ambassador, was so struck by the plant’s red beauty that he requested clipping sent to South Carolina home, which he later passed along to friends. In 1833, a German botanist gave the plant the scientific name of Euphorbia pulcherrima; however this was renamed Poinsettia pulcherrima in 1837 by an American gardener and historian as a nod to Joel Roberts Poinsett.
In Mexico, poinsettias are displayed on Día de la Virgen de Guadelupe (Day of the Virgin of Guadelupe) which is coincidentally the same date that Joel Roberts Poinsett passed away on in 1851. National Poinsettia Day is celebrated on December 12 in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett and this striking plant is a wonderful symbol of Christmas cheer. Make this holiday season special for family, friends, and loved ones by sending them a beautiful floral or plant arrangement from Send Flowers, and may all your holidays be joyful and bright.