The Christmas "Flower"

It’s Christmas time! That means Christmas trees, ornaments, colorful lights, and those red, potted flowers. Those red flowers are called Poinsettias, or, Euphorbia pulcherrima. Those signature red “flowers,” that tie together your Christmas decorations, are actually colored leaves called “bracts.” The actual flower of the Poinsettia is the yellow-green part in the center of those red leaves. Red is the most popular color, but there are other colors like pink, white, and some marbled variations. The most vibrant Poinsettias come from leaving them in complete darkness for a few days, then giving them plenty of exposure to morning sunlight.

Believe it or not, these popular Christmas decorations originated in Mexico. Aztecs used these vibrant, red plants to dye fabrics, calm fevers, and religious ceremonies. It wasn’t until 1828, when Joel Roberts Poinsett, a U.S. congressman and ambassador to Mexico, discovered the plant and brought it back to the states. We honor Poinsett on the day of his death, December 12, by naming it “Poinsettia Day.”

As Poinsettias grew more popular in the 1900s, a man by the name of Paul Ecke discovered a technique to grow fuller Poinsettias. Before long, his family ranch in California sold 70% of Poinsettias in the U.S. and 50% in the world. California is still the top producer of Poinsettia. Across the country, approximately 34 million Poinsettias are purchased annually.A myth that has grown popular in the US as well is that Poinsettia leaves are poisonous to humans. This is actually incorrect, while they don’t taste the best the leaves are not harmful to us.

In all, Poinsettias are very interesting flowers and they are way more than just Christmas decor. They hold rich history, but share different stories. So as Christmas rolls around the corner, every time a vibrant Poinsettia is seen, think of its history. Where it came from, and what it means today.


“Poinsettia Facts.” Beans - Vegetable Directory - Watch Your Garden Grow - University of Illinois Extensionextension.illinois.edu/poinsettia/facts.cfm.

“History & Legends.” Beans - Vegetable Directory - Watch Your Garden Grow - University of Illinois Extensionextension.illinois.edu/poinsettia/history.cfm.

Perry, Leonard. “Fun Facts about Poinsettias.” PH for the Garden,pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/points.htm.

“Poinsettias - Facts, Growing and Caring Tips of Poinsettia Plant.” The Flower Expert, 7 Dec. 2018, www.theflowerexpert.com/content/giftflowers/flowersandoccassions/poinsettias.

-Rachel Smart

Writer for Everything Agriculture

Cover photo: Art of Agriculture page