Christmas Holidays Meaning & Symbolism

Poinsettia Meaning and Symbolism

red and white poinsettias

If there’s one flower that’s synonymous with Christmas, it’s the poinsettia. Their bright green leaves and colorful bracts brighten up the home and fill your home with cheer. So while Santa and the Elves are busy preparing for Christmas, take a moment to order plant delivery for Christmas.

Even if you’ve had poinsettias in your home for years, you might not know much about these plants. What do they mean and how did they become tied to Christmas? We’re going to cover some poinsettia symbolism as well as a few fun historical facts and care tips. By the time you’re done reading, you just may find yourself asking for more than a few of these plants this year.

Where Do Poinsettias Come From?

While you probably associate poinsettias with cold weather and winter, these plants aren’t native to chilly regions. In fact, they were once strangers to frosts and snow.

The Christmas poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) we know and love is native to Southern Mexico as well as parts of Guatemala and El Salvador. While these plants grow across this region, one especially robust population of plants exists in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

In their native habitat, these plants grow as large shrubs or small trees. Imagine the poinsettia plants you love, just a whole lot bigger.

While the Christmas poinsettia is probably the plant you think of when you hear the word “poinsettia,” there are other species that people refer to as poinsettias. The painted poinsettia (Euphorbia cyathophora) clearly resembles it’s more popular cousin, but it has smaller colorful portions. This species is native to the Southern US, so you may spot it growing in wild areas.

The Story Behind the Poinsettia Name

Even if you grew up calling these plants poinsettias, they didn’t always hold this name. Previously they had been called the Mexican flame flower or painted leaf. You might still see them referred to by these names.

The name poinsettia emerged after US botanist Joel Roberts Poinsett became the first US minister to Mexico. During his time in Mexico, Poinsett discovered the beautiful plants. In 1826, he sent some plants back to the US. Over time, he and his team successfully cultivated these plants in his South Carolina greenhouses.

Before long, word of the plant spread. It was exhibited at the first Pennsylvania Horticultural Society show (now the Philadelphia Flower Show), and made its way across the Atlantic to England. As the plant’s popularity grew, people began referring to these plants as poinsettias.

How Did Poinsettias Become Tied to Christmas?

Before poinsettias were Christmas symbols in the United States, other countries had tied them to the holiday. One Mexican legend tells of a Christmas poinsettia story.

A little girl couldn’t afford to buy Christmas gifts. In her despair, an angel visited her and instructed her to gather weeds as gifts and place them near the church altar. When Maria placed the plants down, they morphed into bright red poinsettias. Since then, these plants have been associated with Christmas.

Today, they’re symbols of Christmas in the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, and other countries.

Poinsettia Meaning

In the United States and other countries, poinsettias symbolize the Christmas season and the miracles it celebrates. Since these winter plants are often red and green, they fit right in with the holiday hues.

Poinsettias also mean joy, cheer, and success, regardless of their color. If you’re looking to brighten someone’s home during the winter, don’t hesitate to order a plant delivery for Christmas.

Poinsettias in Ancient Mexico

Long before poinsettias lined up against mantles and welcomed you in from the chilly winter air, indigenous peoples cultivated and used these plants. Both the Aztecs and Mayans used these plants for aesthetic and medicinal purposes.

Aztec Use of Poinsettia

The Aztecs call the poinsettia cuetlaxochitl which translates to brilliant flower. They used the bright bracts and the bark to make a colorful red/purple dye.

Poinsettias also had numerous medical uses. People used the sap to increase milk production in lactating women. They also used the sap to remove body hair.

The Aztecs also believed simply being around the plant could affect people. If women got too close to a poinsettia plant, the Aztecs thought their reproductive organs were at risk of infection.

Mayan Use of Poinsettia

The Mayans refer to the poinsettia as k’alul wits, meaning ember flower. They used the colorful plants to liven up gardens and decorate homes.

The Mayans also used the poinsettia for medical purposes but in different ways than the Aztecs. Mayans boiled the small yellow flowers and large red bracts to form a solution. They then administered this to pregnant or postpartum women who were losing blood.

Types of Poinsettias

While bright red poinsettias are the most recognized form of the plant, they’re not the only form. As poinsettias became synonymous with Christmas, plant breeders began creating different cultivars to brighten up homes and deck the halls. Today you can find white, pink, green, and yellow poinsettias.

While you may think that the colored portions of poinsettias are flowers, they’re actually modified leaves called bracts. The flowers are small, yellow blooms located in the middle of the bracts.

Keep an eye out for the following types of poinsettias this year.

  • ‘Marco Polo’ has bright salmon leaves that offer a good contrast to classic red plants.
  • ‘Princettia Pure White’ has crisp white bracts that set it apart from off-white varieties.
  • ‘Christmas Beauty Nostalgia’ displays dark pink bracts that gently fade to light pink with green edges.
  • ‘Luv U Pink’ brightens up the home with hot pink bracts.
  • ‘Gold Rush’ has golden orange bracts with slight hints of pink.
  • ‘Cinnamon Star’ stands out with salmon bracts covered in dark pink specks.
  • ‘Jingle Bells’ has dark red bracts that appear like they’ve been dusted with white snow.
  • ‘Carousel Dark Red’ brings classic red color coupled with a whimsical wavy shape.

Tips for Caring for Poinsettias at Home

Unlike roses and lilies that are a part of festive holiday bouquets, poinsettias are often enjoyed as potted plants. Since they’re a bit different than cut flowers and leafy houseplants you’re used to, you might not know how to best care for them. Don’t worry — we’re here to help! Check out these tips to help your poinsettia shine throughout the holiday season.

Protect Your Poinsettia from Cold

While these plants are popular during the colder months, they don’t appreciate cold weather. Remember that they’re native to Mexico! Keeping your plants cozy and warm will help them thrive.

Make sure to place your plants away from poorly insulated windows and cold drafts. You should also check a store’s environment before you decide to purchase a plant. If poinsettias are sitting outside in the cold or near a constantly opening door, beware. While they may look fine at the store, they may struggle once you bring them inside.

Water Well, But Not Too Much

Like all plants, poinsettias need water to live. However, there is such a thing as watering too much.

Get into the habit of checking your plant once every other day. If the top inch of soil is dry or the pot feels extra light, it’s time to water. Thoroughly water your plant until all of the soil is moist. If excess water runs out of the pot’s drainage holes, make sure to dump the overflow.

Keep Them Away From Dry Heat

While you probably find fireplaces and radiators cozy, poinsettias don’t love this type of dry heat. If you place them next to these warm areas, they can quickly dry out and suffer.

Instead, they prefer humid conditions. Since most homes are dry during the winter, you might need to mist your plant with water every few days.

Give Them Light

If you’ve been tempted to use a poinsettia to brighten up a dark corner, we don’t blame you. But before you place these plants in full shade, think about their needs. If you want your poinsettias to last as long as possible, place them in an area that receives bright, indirect light.

They don’t need full sun, but they will struggle if they’re in full shade.

Consider Alternative Options

If you want to try out sometime new with your poinsettia, try using them as part of a bouquet or tucking them into a festive wreath. Once the flowers are cut, they last for over a week in a vase.

If you’d like to dress up wreaths for the holidays, poinsettias are a great option. You should be aware that the foliage will begin to fade after a few days, so it’s best to add the poinsettias right before a big event.

Order Christmas Flowers and Plants

If you want to add some holiday flowers or plants to your home, you’re in luck! The Bouqs Co. makes it easy to order flowers online and have them delivered directly to your door. With options like evergreen wreaths and jolly holiday bouquets, you can find something for everyone on your list. And don’t forget, you can incorporate poinsettias in your Christmas centerpieces.

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