Legends of the poinsettia

The poinsettia lends its passionate color to legends and folklore about everything from young love to the rage of war.

Decking the halls : the folklore and traditions of Christmas plants
by Linda E. Allen.
Minocqua, Wis. : Willow Creek Press, c2000.
With so many customs and traditions during the Christmas season, we often do not pause to wonder and ponder about how and why they began. Of all the seasonal celebrations of the year, Christmas has more traditional plants with their accompanying legends and symbolism than any other season. Holly, ivy, mistletoe, the poinsettia, rosemary, the Yule log, and the most popular and recognized of all--the Christmas tree--each has its own fascinating legend and history. Drawing from Christian practices, along with ancient Druid, Celtic, Norse and Roman beliefs, Decking the Halls explores the history of our popular Christmas plants and flowers during this most holy season.
Poinsettias : the December flower--myth & legend, history & botanical fact
Christine Anderson & Terry Tischer.
Tiburon, CA : Waters Edge Press, 1997, c1998.
The only book about poinsettias! Never before has a book unearthed how this once obscure weed was transformed into a universally recognizable symbol of Christmas. Yet from Dallas to Denmark, from potted plants to pop culture, poinsettias are the December flower. Each year 150 million of the colorful, carefully cultivated beauties are purchased in more than 40 countries, and their distinctive profile is used to turn thousands of ordinary items into festive-looking Yuletide merchandise. Blooming with 95 stunning antique images and color photographs, Poinsettias is a visual treat as well as a comprehensive history full of little known, fun facts and practical horticultural advice. The perfect gift for any season.

"...beautifully illustrated...a fascinating read...especially loved the layout..".


Poinsettias are native to Mexico. The Aztecs cultivated the plant for making a fever reducing medicine from the bracts. Their love story involves a beautiful princess and a warrior. Unable to be together the princess was a like a wilting flower and died of a broken heart. The flower goddess, Xoxhipilli, changed her into a red poinsettia for her purity.

When the Toltecs were defending their temple from the Aztecs, all the elders were killed. The young boys put on the headdresses of the slain and their god, Quetzalcoatl, lit the feathers on fire. The Aztecs saw the flames and retreated. When the boys took off the headdresses and placed them on the ground, beautiful poinsettias grew in their place as a tribute for their bravery.

Poinsettias are not poisonous. A study at Ohio State University showed that a  50-pound child would have to eat more than 600 poinsettia bracts might have a slight stomach ache. The sap of a Poinsettia can irritate the skin and cause a rash.

Ohio State University

There are two legends about these Flowers of the Holy Night. A young girl and a boy had no gift to present to the Holy Child. An angel advised the girl to gather weeds from the roadside and place them at the manger. As she did the weeds burst into blooms of red poinsettias. The boy was so distraught that he fell to his knees and asked for forgiveness. When he rose up poinsettias sprouted up from where he was kneeling.

The plant was introduced to the United States and named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico. After seeing them growing in the wild had them shipped back to his greenhouse in South Carolina and became a favorite Christmas flower.

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff