Making of Poinsettia Day
know that the poinsettia has a special day all its own? By an
Act of Congress, December 12 was set aside as National
Poinsettia Day. The date marks the death of Joel Roberts
Poinsett, who is credited with introducing the native Mexican
plant to the United States. The purpose of the day is to enjoy
the beauty of this popular holiday plant.
The plant we
know today as the poinsettia has a long and interesting history.
The fact is, that lovely plant you place in your home during the
holidays was once used as a fever medicine!
Central America, the plant flourished in an area of Southern
Mexico known as Taxco del Alarcon. The ancient Aztecs had a name
for this plant found blooming in the tropical highlands during
the short days of winter:cuetlaxochitl. Not merely
decorative, the Aztecs put the plant to practical use. From its
bracts they extracted a purplish dye for use in textiles and
cosmetics. The milky white sap, today called latex, was made
into a preparation to treat fevers.
poinsettia may have remained a regional plant for many years to
come had it not been for the efforts of Joel Roberts Poinsett
(1779 - 1851). The son of a French physician, Poinsett was
appointed as the first United States Ambassador to Mexico (1825
- 1829) by President Madison. Poinsett had attended medical
school himself, but his real love in the scientific field was
botany. (Mr. Poinsett later founded the institution which we
know today as the Smithsonian Institution).
maintained his own hothouses on his Greenville, South Carolina
plantations, and while visiting the Taxco area in 1828, he
became enchanted by the brilliant red blooms he saw there. He
immediately sent some of the plants back to South Carolina,
where he began propagating the plants and sending them to
friends and botanical gardens.
recipients of Poinsett's work was John Bartram of Philadelphia,
who in turn gave the plant over to another friend, Robert Buist,
a Pennsylvania nurseryman. Mr. Buist is thought to be the first
person to have sold the plant under its botanical name, Euphorbia
pulcherrima (literally, "the most beautiful
Euphorbia"). Though it is thought to have become known by
its more popular name of poinsettia around 1836, the origin
of the name is certainly clear!