How the Poinsettia Became an Indispensable Part of Christmas

They are symbols of good cheer and just scream Christmas time. But how did the poinsettia became such an integral part of this holiday?

By: THURSD. | 06-12-2023 | 5 min read
Christmas Designs Indoor Plants

Christmas time is getting closer, the weather is getting colder, but our souls are getting warmer. When it comes to happiness, Christmas is the perfect time to give or receive flowers. And when we are on the subject of Christmas flowers, no Christmas is complete without the poinsettia.

Poinsettias are popular garden plants in tropical and subtropical areas and are well-known potted plants associated with winter festivities in temperate regions. But how did the poinsettia become such an integral part of this holiday?

No Christmas Without the Poinsettia

Poinsettias are an indispensable part of Christmas decor throughout the world. They are symbols of good cheer and just scream at Christmas time. The euphorbia pulcherrima, widely known as the poinsettia, belongs to a larger family of plants known as Euphorbiaceae (the Spurge family). There are over 2,000 species in this botanical family and many species have common names that vary from region to region and country to country.



The name of the poinsettia was given by German botanist Karl Ludwig Wilenow. He was so impressed by the color of this plant that he gave it the name Euphorbia pulcherrima, which literally translates to 'very pretty plant'. And he was right because the poinsettia is definitely deserving of this name.

The poinsettia is native to Central America and Mexico, in particular in an area of southern Mexico known as 'Taxco del Alarcon' where they flower naturally during the winter. In fact, poinsettias are very common in Mexico and you will often see them growing on the side of the road. Even in the 14th to 16th centuries, this plant was popular among the Aztecs. They called them 'Cuetlaxochitl' which means 'flower that grows in residues or soil'. Poinsettias had a number of practical uses, from dyeing clothes to using the sap as medicine, as well as for decoration and mid-winter celebrations.

Flowering and Colors

The poinsettia is a shrub (or small tree) that generally reaches a height of 60 cm to 5 meters. With dark green leaves and yellow flowers surrounded by large, colorful bracts that look like petals, this plant is a looker. The bracts are often mistaken for flower petals but they are actually modified leaves that surround a bunch of small, inconspicuous yellow flowers called cyathia.

In response to the poinsettia plant forming flowers, these bracts can change color and range from creamy white to traditionally bright red. You have probably seen the magnificent color variations in the assortment of breeder MNP / Suntory.


Princettia white by MNP Suntory
Princettia® Pure White by breeder MNP  / Suntory


The Star of Christmas

Because of the colorful star-shaped bracts that are always around during Christmas time, this flower is also called the Christmas Star or Christmas Flower. The use of this plant in Christmas decor and celebrations stems back to the 17th century when Franciscan monks in Mexico started using poinsettia for Christmas ceremonies. At that time, the legend of the little Pepita was born, forever linking red and green colors to Christmas.

According to legend, a young Mexican girl named Pepita was on her way to visit the Nativity scene at the chapel in her small town. It was customary at that time to honor Jesus by bringing gifts for him to the church. Pepita didn't have anything to give so on her way to the church, she picked flowers and weeds from the side of the road and fashioned them into a bouquet. Upon arrival, the girl laid the bouquet at the feet of Jesus, and suddenly, the weeds burst into brilliant red blooms. From that day on, the bright red flowers of the poinsettia were known as the 'Flores de Noche Buena' or 'Flowers of the Holy Night'.


How the Poinsettia Became an Indispensable Part of Christmas Christmas Star


The Most Popular Christmas Plant

The plant remained relatively unknown until Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced it to the United States. This introduction forever changed the way we see poinsettias all over the world and now no Christmas is complete without them. It is the most popular Christmas plant in the world and is grown globally for our December festivities.

Poinsettia Christmas Tree by Luis Rojas
Poinsettia Christmas tree by @apix_digital_photo


It won't be long until Christmas is here. Finding the perfect gift for friends and family can be quite the task but the poinsettia always makes a great one. With bright flowers and a graceful charm, it will add beauty to Christmas decorations and that holiday cheer into your home. When selecting a poinsettia for yourself or someone else, make sure it has healthy, dark green foliage, well-colored bracts, stiff stems, and make sure that no roots are coming out of the pot. It's normal for the plant to have a few yellow leaves, but too many mean that the plant is stressed.



Decorate Christmas in poinsettias with BLOOM’s Christmas trend ‘Classic & Elegant’

How to Care for a Poinsettia

They prefer cooler temperatures overnight and thrive in slightly humid air. Ideally, keep your poinsettia in an environment that's between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius and keep it away from cold or warm drafts (like windows, doors, radiators, and heaters). Place them in a space that receives a minimum of six hours of indirect sunlight per day and keep the soil damp but not too saturated. You can check its watering needs by lifting the entire pot. When the pot is light, it indicates the soil is dry and you need to water your plant. Besides this, poinsettias require little care so all the more time for you to enjoy the holidays!



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