Everyone knows that poinsettias are a part of traditional Christmas decorations, but did you know that the flowering plants have a long and storied history with Latin roots! Poinsettias are native to Central America, most specifically in the southern Mexican area of “Taxco del Alarcon” where the plants flower in the winter months.

Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first ambassador to travel from America to Mexico in 1825 and brought the plants to the U.S. Poinsett, who had plantations in his native Greenville, South Carolina, was also fond of greenhouses, therefore while visiting the “Taxco del Alarcon” area in 1828, he became very interested in the indigenous winter flowers.

Poinsett almost immediately sent back some of the plants to his plantation, upon his arrival back to South Carolina he began growing the plants and then gifting them to friends and nearby botanical gardens. In addition to bring the poinsettia to America, he later went on to fund the famed Smithsonian Institute.

Poinsett had attended medical school, however his true passion within the scientific field was botany, and he excelled at it. John Bartram of Philadelphia was a recipient of Poinsett’s poinsettia and he in turn passed along the plant to Robert Buist, a Pennsylvania nurseryman. Buist is credited, as being the first to sell the plant, however under it’s botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima. The plant did not gain its more popular name of poinsettia until 1836, when the origin of its journey into the U.S through Poinsett was more widely known.

However, this tale of the poinsettias coming to America still doesn’t answer exactly how the plant is connected to Christmas. Poinsettias became a custom of Christmas mainly due to a Mexican legend about a sweet, young girl name Pepita.

Pepita was a poor Mexican girl who could not afford to buy a gift to present to the Christ Child at the annual Christmas Eve mass. Pepita was saddened by her lack of a gift, however her cousin Pedro consoled her saying, “I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes." Pepita decided to kneel on the roadside and collect common weeds; in the hopes they appeared to be a bouquet of flowers.

Despite her effort Pepita was embarrassed by her humble offering, but as she placed the weeds at the foot of the nativity scene they burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes. From this Christmas on, poinsettias became known as Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season and thus, the deep connection between Christmas and poinsettias was established.