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The History Behind a Holiday Bloom

According to Mexican legend, the first poinsettia came from the prayers of a peasant brother and sister. Without money for a gift to give to the church in honor of Jesus, they brought a bouquet of weeds to the altar one year. They placed their green plants around the church’s manger scene. Miraculously, the first “Flower of the Holy Night” bloomed in a bright red and green star shape.

The poinsettia plant was cultivated by the Aztecs of Mexico long before the introduction of Christianity to the Western Hemisphere. Poinsettias first became associated with religions in the 17th century when, because of their brilliant color and holiday bloom, Franciscan priests in Mexico used the flower during nativity processions.

Poinsettias were introduced to Americans in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Poinsett, a skilled botanist, grew the plants in his greenhouse in Greenville, South Carolina. He then sent them to botanical gardens and fellow horticulturists. The poinsettia eventually reached Robert Buist, a nurseryman, who sold it as Euphorbia poinsettia (a German botanist had already given the plant the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherima). Poinsettia, however, remains the accepted name in English-speaking countries.


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