What is the history of the poinsettia?


What is the history of the poinsettia?


The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is native to Mexico. In Mexico, the poinsettia is a large shrub or small tree that may reach a height of 10 to 15 feet.  

Poinsettias were cultivated by the Aztecs, who called the plant Cuetlaxochitl. They used the colorful bracts to make a reddish purple dye. The poinsettia’s milky sap was used to treat fevers.  

After the Spanish conquest and the introduction of Christianity, poinsettias began to be used in Christian ceremonies. Franciscan priests used the poinsettia in their nativity processions.  

Poinsettias were first introduced into the United States by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the United States Minister (ambassador) to Mexico from 1825 to 1829. Poinsett had plants sent to his home in Greenville, S.C. He then distributed plants to botanical gardens and horticultural friends, including John Bartram of Philadelphia.  

The popularity of the poinsettia as a holiday plant grew rapidly in the latter half of the 20th century with the development of shorter, free-branching, longer-lived cultivars. Plant breeders also expanded the color range of the poinsettia. Poinsettias are now available in red, pink, white and gold. Variegated and marbled poinsettias also are available. Today, the poinsettia is the number one flowering potted plant in the United States.

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on . The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.