What is the History Behind the Poinsettia Christmas Flower?


When the holidays finally arrive, decorating your homes with lights, flowers, window decorations and flowers comes to mind.  There is nothing more beautiful then a poinsettia display.  Everyone loves to see the red leaves that are famous around November to January. 

What is the History of the Poinsettia?

The poinsettia is often known as the Christmas Flower and Euphorbia Pulcherrima.  It is one of the most sold flowers during the winter season.  The poinsettia comes from the spurge family.  The poinsettia comes from Mexico. 

The Christmas Flower has green foliage and its used for Christmas displays in windows.  It is also decorated in homes throughout the United States.  The name poinsettia was named after a man called Joel Roberts Poinsett.  Mr. Poinsett was a physician and diplomat.  He was the first United States representative in South America.  He was the first politician appointed to Mexico from the United States. 

Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first person to introduce the Christmas Flower to the United States in the year 1825.  This plant is known also as a shrub and often reaches a height of around 2 to 13 feet.  The leaves of the poinsettia are dark green and are refereed to as dentate.  The leaves are around 3 to 6 inches long. 

What Color Bracts Does the Poinsettia Have?

  • Red
  • Cream
  • Pale Green
  • Orange
  • Marbled
  • Pink

The plant grows well in darkness.  Therefore, it’s called photoperiodism. It is estimated that they need to be kept in at least 12 hours of darkness in order to grow properly.  Therefore, they make the perfect indoor house plant. 

However, in order to get that nice bright color that we see in the stores, they need around 12 hours of sunlight as well.  Indoor lighting is often enough for lighting. 

The poinsettia plant is found growing in the wild throughout Mexico. They are often found in forests.  They can also be found growing in Guatemala and Chiapas.  They are normally growing during the hot season. 

In the Aztec, the people use the antipyretic from the plant for medicine.  This often helps to reduce fever in the body.  The Aztecs call the plant Cuetlaxochitl.  Mexicans and Guatemalans refer to this plant as Flor de Nochebuena. 

In Peru and Chile, the Christmas Flower is called Crown of the Andes. 

When Did the Poinsettia Started to Get Used for Christmas Season?

During the 16th century, a poor Mexican girl wanted to bring a present to the church for Jesus birthday.  However, she was to poor and had no money to buy a gift.  An angel appeared to her and told her to go and gather some weeds in the forest and put them before the alter.  When the weeds sprouted, they became poinsettias. Therefore, it’s now known as the Christmas flower and used around holidays. 

In the 17th century, Franciscan priests in Mexico started to place the poinsettia plants in front of the alter during the Christmas holiday.  The star in the plant represents the star of Bethlehem.  Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus Christ. 

We celebrate the red in the Christmas Flower to represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for us. 

Where Else Can You Put Your Poinsettia Plant?

  • Office
  • Churches
  • Schools
  • Government Buildings

Where Is Poinsettia Sold?

  • Grocery Stores
  • Garden Nurseries
  • Walmart
  • Cosco
  • Hardware Store
  • Local Florists

Poinsettia Day falls on December 12th.  A German man by the name of Albert Ecke relocated from Germany to the United States.  He moved to the city of Las Angeles in 1900. He had a unique love for the poinsettia plant.  He decided to sell them at plant stands throughout Las Angeles.  He passed this business down to his son and the third generation. 

When the grandson of Albert Ecke started to sell the poinsettia around the Christmas season, he started a holiday trend. His name was Paul Ecke Jr.  He started to send free plants to television stations to show these on TV.  The television stations happily accepted his Christmas Flowers and began showcasing them on TV during Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

The Ecke family virtually owned the poinsettia industry until the 1990’s.  They had taken over the entire poinsettia industry creating a monopoly.  They developed their own technique on how to grow each seed to bloom.  Most poinsettia plant was not as fully grown as it should be. However, the Ecke family made it possible for the plant to blossom large and full. They would take each plant and graft them together.  This made the Christmas flower a lot fuller. 

A university researcher decided to research the plant during the 1980’s.  He discovered the process that the Elke family was using in order to make these plants look fuller.  He went on to publish his findings. Unfortunately, because of his discovery, other merchants began to take the idea and make a business out of it as well.  Instead of the Elke family being the only ones to know this secret, the world was now exposed to it.  Many companies use low cost labor in Latin America to produce the plant now.  The Elke family no longer corners the market. 

Paul Ecke III decided to stop producing the plants in the United States.  However, they still do business and control around 70% of the domestic market.  They have control over around 50% of the worldwide market. 

Important Facts About the Poinsettia

The poinsettia was grown in Egypt during the 1800’s.    The poinsettia has over one hundred varieties.  If you grow these in your home, its best to put them in front of your window so that they can get sunlight in the morning and darkness in the evening. 

The poinsettia can be grown outside in cold weather.  However, you must make sure that the plant remains without frost.  Countries around the world grow the poinsettia in all types of weather to include Australia, Malta and Rwanda. 

As you can see, the poinsettia is a beloved plant that most people buy during the holiday. I hope that you get your poinsettia this year as well.

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I have been a florist now for over a decade. I enjoy planting flowers in my home garden and in my nursery.

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