Thursday, 2 December 2010

The legend of the Poinsettia

The Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) also known as the Ataturk flower, is a small tree or shrub native to Mexico and Central America. It typically grows to a height of between 2’ and 16’ (0’6m to 4m)  It was named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the USA in 1828.
The legend of the poinsettia has its roots in 16th century Mexico. It was traditional for people going to Mass on Christmas Eve to take gifts to the baby Jesus in the church Nativity scene. One poor young girl was very sad because she had nothing to give and then an angel appeared and told her to pick some roadside weeds. As she walked into the church the rest of the congregation laughed at her and scorned her offering. She was humiliated but as she walked down the aisle the weeds sprouted beautiful scarlet blossoms to become poinsettias.
Since then poinsettias have traditionally been associated with Christmas. They come in a variety of colours from white through pink to the more usual scarlet. For many years they were believed to be poisonous and parents and pet owners were warned to be wary. Some books still state that they are toxic, like most of the Euphorbia family, but research has proved this not to be the case.
The ‘flowers’ are actually leaves. The real flowers, in the centres of each star-shaped set of bright leaves are quite insignificant. 
Last Sunday we had a family gathering and I was delighted when Nina gave me this poinsettia. 


  1. I enjoyed this post, Janice. I've never heard the legend of the poinsettia before. I think bright red ones like yours cheer up a home when our days are getting shorter and are often dreary outdoors.

  2. I don't believe I ever heard the legend of the Poinsettia. Thanks for sharing! The Poinsettia that Nina gave you is very pretty.

  3. I love Poinsettis, but I never ever have any luck with them and end up killing them.

  4. Aren't they beautiful? I remember seeing hedges of poinsettias in Central America when I was 22, and how impressed I was. I can still picture one of those hedges in my mind.
    -- K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  5. Very interesting didn't know the history of the flower and also not that it is called "Ataturk flower"!
    Thanks for sending us all your snow and the cold, lol ! Yesterday it started snowing and it is freezing cold - 10°C this night and -7° today. I almost missed the concert of Elton John ! we left Waterloo at 6 and arrived in Brussels at 7.30 (15 km) just in time to find a parking space ! We really were lucky because there were lots of people stuck in the snow !
    The concert was great he is a real genius !!

  6. What a beautiful story about the poinsetta. I read it out loud to my daughters. It is funny how year after year you buy them for Christmas or see them and never think of how they came to be associated with Xmas. I'm glad I now know the tradition.

  7. What a lovely story. I've never heard this before. We do have a lot of poinsettia in Hawaii during this season.

  8. Thanks for all the information. It's time I bought one for the house - yours is so colorful!

  9. As I understand it,jabblog, poinsettias were further developed here in Carlsbad, by the Paul Ecke growers. This is great flower country.

  10. I often wondered where the association with Christmas came from - thanks! They are lovely plants.

  11. Thanks for sharing this lovely story Janice. I had never heard it before. I will be buying mine soon. Have a great weekend.

  12. Very interesting to find out the origins of the name and the story to do with this plant. I didn't realise it was a euphorbia.


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