Maui Blog - Georgie Hunter R(S): The Humble Origin of the Poinsettia Plant

The Humble Origin of the Poinsettia Plant

You know that Christmas is just around the corner when you start seeing these plants in the markets.  If you ever travel to the Big Island of Hawaii you will see some beautiful plantings at this time of year.  I don't think they like the wind so much, but they seem to tolerate dry alright.

In November we highlighted our "almost, but no cigar" contender for our national symbol, the turkey. It is most appropriate that now in the wintry month of "Oh Holy Night," we recall the "Flor de la Noche Buena," "the Flower of the Holy Night," the "Blazing Star" or "Flame Leaf" flower," commonly known here as the poinsettia. In Chile and Peru, it is called the "Crown of the Andes." It is indeed a bloom worthy of a king, or as a gift to the King of Kings. How this glorious plant came to be associated with Christmas is the stuff of legends, and is the focus of our other article on poinsettias. But before that story, here let's visit the plant’s humble origins.

 Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where they grow as a wild perennial flowering shrub reaching heights of ten feet. The Aztecs called the plant "Cuetlaxochiti," and found a number of practical uses for it. Throughout the 14th to the 16th centuries, the intense red of the modified leaves or bracts (and here you thought the showy parts were flowers) was used as a dye, and the oozing white milk-like sap of the plant formulated into a medicine. Ironically, if the sap is dripped or rubbed on the skin it can cause a painful irritation similar to poison oak or ivy, yet taken internally in carefully formulated doses, it was a common native remedy for stomach ailments and fevers. Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, was very fond of the "Cuetlaxochiti," and even brought them by caravan to the present site of Mexico City.

 Serious European interest in the plant was not to start till the 17th. century, when a botanist by the name of Juan Balme first noted it in his writings. The German botanist, Wilenow, was so dazzled by the intense color of the plant that he gave it its scientific name "Euphorbia pulcherrima," meaning "very beautiful." Apparently the American Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, thought it was very beautiful, too. In 1825, while on assignment there, he came on a stunning wild plant growing along the side of the road. A botanist at heart, he stopped and took some clippings, which made their way back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. The plants prospered and were given to friends as far north as Philadelphia. One eventually found its way to a Pennsylvanian nurseryman named Robert Buist, who marketed offspring of the plant under its botanical name. Around 1836 "Euphorbia pulcherrima" was assigned its common name, poinsettia, to honor the man who introduced this beauty to the United States. Generally our government does not honor U.S. Ambassadors for introducing beauty, but in Joel Roberts Poinsett they made an exception. Poinsett died on December 12, 1851. Congress declared Dec. 12 as National Poinsettia Day. Actually, this is quite appropriate, for it truly has become a national flower. Poinsettias are now grown in all fifty states. 

 In the 1900's, the Eche family in California pioneered the use of the poinsettia plants in landscaping and also as cut flowers. Today California is the top poinsettia producing state, and the Paul Eche Ranch there grows over 80 percent of the plants in the U.S. wholesale market. Amazingly, 90% of all the flowering poinsettias in the world today got their start at the Eche Ranch. Today over 200 varieties are commercially grown. $220 million worth of poinsettias are sold during the holiday season alone.

 According to the industry stats, 80% of poinsettia plants are purchased by women, and 80% of those purchasers are 40 or older. There may be some cross-pollination of that trend into the Realty market as well, for there are those who say that when couples are house-hunting, the final choice of which home is selected among equals, may rest with the more genteel sex. Just kidding, kind of, not really, ah well,

Have a blessed Christmas. And when with spiced sangria or hot buttered rum in hand you are admiring your neighbors’ festive potted poinsettia, impress them by commenting, "By Jove! What a lovely Cuetlaxochiti!"

Leolinda Bowers is the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Top Producing Realtor® in Ken Meade Realty.


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Leolinda Bowers TM
Associate Broker
Ken Meade Realty
Cell (602) 403-6865
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Sun City Grand Real Estate If you are thinking of buying or selling a home in any Phoenix Arizona retirement community, consider hiring me as your Realtor®. I am the 2011, 2010 and 2009 Top Producing Agent in Ken Meade Realty. In 2011, I successful closed 71 transactions. As a year-round Sun City Grand resident and full-time Associate Broker Realtor®, I am familiar with Phoeniz AZ retirement communities Sun City Grand, Sun City West, Corte Bella, Arizona Traditions, Sun Village, Pebble Creek and Trilogy at Vistancia.


Comment balloon 4 commentsGeorgie Hunter R(S) 58089 • December 08 2012 06:35PM


Thanks for sharing this with us.  I did not know this.  Have a very Merry Christmas..

Posted by Ginger Harper, Your Southport~Oak Island Agent~Brunswick County! (Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage) over 6 years ago

Thanks for reposting Georgina.  I've never heard to history of the poinsetta before, interesting.

Posted by Christine McDaniel, Broker Associate (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Porter Co.) over 6 years ago

That is an interesting story on the 'Christmas Flower', and amazing that 80% of the plants sold come from one farm in Califronia

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) over 6 years ago

Georgina~ I love to admire poinsetta plants but I'm not very good at taking care of them!

Posted by Donna Foerster, Metro Denver Real Estate Agent (HomeSmart Realty Group) over 6 years ago

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