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Linda E Allen

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Poinsettia - The Plant with Many Names
By Linda E Allen   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, December 01, 2013
Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008

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Poinsettia - the plant with many names has a beautiful history of many legends from its native country Mexico.


The showoff flower of the Christmas season, the poinsettia (pronounced with an “i”) claims many names.  Its common name comes from Joel Poinsett, the first US Ambassador to Mexico.  In 1828, while visiting Taxco, he found poinsettia plants growing wild.  He was so impressed that he sent several specimens back to the US.  Since then, they have become the most popular Christmas flower, with annual US sales of over $250 million.

You could also call it Euphorbia pulcherrima, its Latin botanical name, which means very beautiful flower. If that’s too hard, how about the name the Aztecs gave it? They used its sap to cure fevers and its bracts to create a red dye. They called it cuetlaxochitl, which means “flower that wilts” because it requires special care and has a short life span. Growers know it is a high-maintenance plant. 

Still another name comes from a Mexican Christmas story based on the tradition for worshipers to bring flowers to place around church Nativity scenes. One story tells of a little girl who wanted to bring flowers to a manger. She had no flowers or money to buy flowers, but she decided to attend the Christmas services anyway.

As she walked to the church, she was crying because she had nothing to give. An angel appeared beside her. “Gather those weeds beside the road,” the angel told her. The child protested that weeds were not a worthy gift. But the angel promised her the Christ Child would know her great love for him through her simple gift.

When the child placed her bouquet of weeds on the manger, they burst into the brilliant red flowers of the poinsettia. For this reason, the poinsettia is known in Mexico as “la flor de Nochebuena” or the “flower of the Holy Night.”

Whatever name you choose, the poinsettia reminds us of the beauty and miracle of Christmas.

Read more stories about Christmas plants and traditions in Decking the Halls – The Folklore and Traditions of Christmas Plants










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Books by
Linda E Allen

Decking the Halls The Folklore and Traditions of Christmas Plants

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Menagerie at the Manger

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Find Your Happiness

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The Ultimate Gardener

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Our Fathers Who Art in Heaven

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