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How the Poinsettia Became the Christmas Plant

Published by Ciara Racedo

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The poinsettia has become the classical winter flower during the Christmas season. Most homes, offices, churches and public places incorporate the poinsettia into their festive décor. However, the poinsettia had humble beginnings.

Poinsettia Origins

The poinsettia’s natural environment is Central America and Mexico.

Its association with Christmas came through a Mexican legend when a young child wanted to give Jesus a gift in celebration of his birthday but the child had no money. Instead he collected some weeds along the road and placed them at the altar with much love. The weeds turned a very bright red and became poinsettias. This was a sign that the child’s gift was acceptable to God.


The poinsettia plant was then incorporated into the Mexican Christmas celebrations.

The Poinsettia Brought to the United States

The plant received its name from Dr. J.R. Poinsett who was a physician and botanist as well as a US representative to Mexico. He was instrumental in bringing the poinsettia to the United States in the early 1800s. He began growing the plant in greenhouses in South Carolina.

Later, it became a commercial success in California where the plants expanded into many varieties and colors and were distributed throughout North America.

Poinsettia Growth Begins Early Summer

Poinsettia growers begin in early summer by rooting the cuttings in the actual pots in which they will grow and will be sold. In the latter part of the summer, they are pinched to promote fuller growth. Flowers begin to set at the end of the summer. At this stage they require total darkness for 12 hours and sunshine during the day.

They are very finicky plants and prone to disease and insects if not constantly monitored. The temperature and moisture has to be just right in order for the plant’s bracts to be at their maximum color at the appropriate time — near the end of November.

Transporting Poinsettias

When transporting the poinsettias to the market place, great care has to be taken. The trucks have to be preheated to approximately 60 degrees F and any temperature changes have to be avoided. The soil is kept moist with water at room temperature. They are also sleeved to protect the stems from breaking. They cannot be stored with fruit or vegetables because the release of ethylene will cause the bracts to drop off.

Bringing the Poinsettia Home

These plants have become so popular that there is hardly a home that doesn’t have one or more on display. There are so many varieties of different colors and different shaped bracts. When selecting a poinsettia, ensure that it looks fresh and that it is located in a bright location. Also be sure that the display location is not near a door or other drafty area.

Similarly, the home location should be away from any fans or heat registers. The soil must be kept moist but not wet as these plants are very sensitive to overwatering. They grow best in well lit locations and could last into early spring under the best of conditions.

Poinsettia plants continue to accent the Christmas season with incredibly beautiful colors.

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