The Legend of the Poinsettia

Poinsettias are a true holiday tradition. But just how did this seasonal plant become associated with Christmas? We explain.

The poinsettia has long been used to decorate during the holiday season. Also known by its Spanish name of Flores de Noche Buena, or “flower of the holy night” and the Latin name of Euphorbia pulcherrima, the poinsettia’s beauty is almost as intriguing as some of the legends that surround it.

Why Is The Poinsettia Flower Associated With Christmas?

Poinsettia - Flower

Some say the poinsettia’s scarlet petal-like bracts represent the star of Bethlehem. Others believe it’s more magical and involves a young Mexican girl named Pepita. The legend goes like this:

Pepita wanted more than anything to present to the Christ Child a special gift on Christmas Eve, but she had no money. Crying as she walked to church, she saw an angel who instructed her to gather weeds from the roadside and present them to the Christ Child.

Pepita took the angel’s advice and gathered a bouquet of weeds to take to the church. Upon entering the church, she placed the weeds at the feet of the Christ Child, and suddenly, her humble weeds burst into brilliant red blooms.

Another Story

Another story attributes poinsettia’s popularity to Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. Ambassador Poinsett was so attracted to these crimson-leaved native Mexican plants that he transplanted some to his greenhouses in South Carolina. There, he grew and propagated them, sharing cuttings and plants with many horticultural friends.

The date of his death, December 12, marks National Poinsettia Day.

Bright red poinsettias with candles in the background.

Poinsettia Flower Facts and Trivia

  • Indigenous to Mexico and Central America, the poinsettia flower was cultivated by ancient Aztec and Mayan peoples. The Aztec name translates to “brilliant flower” (cuetlaxochitl). The Mayan name translates to “ember flower” (k’alul wits). RELATED: Learn about Ember Days.
  • Poinsettias are the number one potted plant sold in the US today, exceeding annual sales of all other potted plants combined!
  • Poinsettias are not toxic to children or humans but they should not be eaten. A child would have to consume more than 500 bracts (leaves) in order to reach an unsafe level, according to the Poisindex. They are, however, mildly poisonous to cats and dogs, so it’s best to keep them out of their reach.
  • Poinsettias come in many colors. From the traditional red to shades of white, peach, pink, and yellow, cultivars are now available in marbled, striped and spotted tones. A seasonal variety, “Jingle Bells.” with its red bracts and pink flecks. is sure to gain popularity among many this holiday.

Join The Discussion

Do you have a poinsettia or two at your house for the holidays?

Share your experience and any questions you may have in the comments below!

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Joel Poinsett is buried in Stateburg, South Carolina….a very small place worthy of a visit. The church there is a treasure!


Never herd that name in puerto rico we call them pascuas

Carl Long

The story of Pepita was told to 3rd graders in the 60s as part of Texas Heritage. Probably don’t/can’t anymore. Merry Christmas, or if your like Shalom, Happy Chanukah!

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