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National Poinsettia Day

Posted - Dec. 8, 2001 at 5:57 a.m.



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By Act of Congress, December 12 is designated as National Poinsettia Day. This date marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who is credited with introducing the native Mexican plant to the United States. Enjoy the beauty of this popular holiday plant by giving someone a poinsettia on December 12, National Poinsettia Day! The reds and greens of the Christmas season are everywhere and none are more exciting than the poinsettia. From the courts of Aztec monarchs to your home, these plants have become as synonymous with Christmas as the traditional tree. When poinsettias were first discovered, they were small reddish flowers on some nondescript shrubs. They have now been selected and bred to include white, pink speckled and variegated varieties to add a festive charm for all of your holiday decoration needs. Like many of our Christmas traditions, poinsettias had no association with the original Christmas. In their native Mexico, they bloomed during the shorter days of the year The lovely Christmas plants we enjoy originated in an area of Southern Mexico known as Taxco del Alarcon. The ancient Aztecs named the plants cuetlaxochitl. They bloomed on the tropical highlands as the days got shorter each winter. The Aztecs had many practical uses. The colored bracts yielded a purplish dye for textiles and cosmetics. They made the milky white latex sap into a preparation to treat fevers. The poinsettia came to this country by the efforts of Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779 - 1851). He was the son of a French physician and was appointed as the first United States Ambassador to Mexico (1825 - 1829) by President Madison. Poinsett attended medical school but his real love was botany. He sent his new discovery to caretakers at his own hothouses at his South Carolina plantations. He propagated the plants and sent them to friends and botanical gardens around the country. John Bartram of Philadelphia (the founder of the first botanical garden in America) received plants from Poinsett. He gave them to another friend, Robert Buist, a Pennsylvania nurseryman. Mr. Buist is thought to be the first person to sell the plant under its botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima (literally, "the most beautiful Euphorbia"). In spite of the Latin name, it is thought to have become known by its more popular name of the poinsettia around 1836.

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