Today is National Poinsettia Day. If you think this is just another one of those wacky observance days that seem to take place every single day of the year (yesterday was both National Mountain Day, and National Light a Candle Day) you’re in for a surprise. In fact, the United States has observed this official day since the mid-1800s in honor of the passing of the first American ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, and the plant he introduced to the U.S.
In 1828, Poinsett discovered the plant with vivid red leaves by the side of a road in Mexico and sent some cuttings home to his residence in South Carolina. Initially, many botanists dismissed the Poinsettia as a weed, but Poinsett’s work with the plant caused it to eventually gain acceptance as a holiday plant.
The holiday season is always a special time in the floral industry, and the star of the show is, of course, the venerable Poinsettia plant. According to a 2013 US Department of Agriculture report, Poinsettias are the highest selling potted flowering plant in America and account for nearly one-quarter of sales of all flowering potted plants throughout the entire year.
So how did the Poinsettia plant end up associated with Christmas? According to Mexican legend, a poor child who could not afford a gift for Christ on Christmas Eve was told that a humble gift, if given with love, would suffice in God’s eyes. The child carefully picked some weeds from the side of a road and brought them to church as a gift to make God happy. As she entered the church, the weeds bloomed into beautiful red and green flowers and the congregation was sure they had witnessed a Christmas miracle. From that day on, Poinsettias were known as ‘Flores de Noche Buena,’ or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night.’
Here are some Poinsettia fun facts:
- Poinsettias are native to southern Mexico and have been used in religious ceremonies and also to decorate churches there for centuries as the red color is a symbol of purity.
- Contrary to popular belief, Poinsettias are not poisonous to people or pets, although the plant has been known to cause stomach irritation and discomfort if ingested. The danger to pets and children comes from the choking hazard of the fibrous parts of the plant, and not the toxicity.
- Although every state in the U.S. grows Poinsettias commercially; for much of the past 100 years, the Ecke Ranch in California has grown over 70% of all Poinsettias purchased in the United States and accounted for about 50% of the Poinsettias sold worldwide.
- The word Poinsettia is traditionally capitalized because it was named after a person.
- The Poinsettia has its own college football bowl game. The Poinsettia Bowl debuted in San Diego in 1952 and originally served as the military services championship game for four years before being resurrected in 2005. This year’s matchup features BYU vs. Wyoming on December 21.
- In the wild, Poinsettias have been known to grow over 12 feet tall.