Most people recognize poinsettias as the vibrant red and green plants that signal the beginning of the holiday season each winter, but did you know that December 12 of every year is National Poinsettia Day? Just in time for the Christmas season, National Poinsettia Day honors both Joel Roberts Poinsett, who first sent the plant back to the U.S. from Mexico, as well as Paul Ecke Jr., who is credited with founding the modern poinsettia industry.
These festive plants often symbolize Christmas in the U.S. due to their lush red leaves and green foliage. Most poinsettias are able to last well through your New Year’s celebrations as well! Prior to its use in American holiday traditions, the poinsettia has also had a long history in Mexico as “la flor de Nochebuena” (the “Flower of the Holy Night”).
Read on for more interesting details about where the poinsettia came from, how it became a traditional Christmas plant in the U.S., and fun ideas for how to celebrate National Poinsettia Day on December 12!
History of National Poinsettia Day
National Poinsettia Day was originally made an official U.S. holiday in 2002. It is recognized on December 12 every year to honor the date of Joel Robert Poinsett’s death, who the plant is now named after. Poinsett was the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, who in the 1820s sent clippings of the plant back to his home in Charleston, South Carolina for cultivation. December 12 also happens to correspond with Mexico’s Dia del la Virgen celebration, an important religious holiday leading up to Christmas each year.
The poinsettia has long been associated with Christmas Eve celebrations in Mexico, in part for its vibrant blood red color. However, it wasn’t until Paul Ecke Jr. discovered a way to cultivate poinsettias in large numbers that it became one of the most popular Christmas plants in the United States. Today, poinsettias are commonly found around fireplace mantles, as holiday office decorations, and in churches during the lead-up to Christmas and through New Year’s.
What Does the Poinsettia Symbolize in the U.S.?
While the poinsettia’s red and green coloring makes it a perfect holiday plant, its associations with Christmas are much deeper. According to a Mexican legend, a small girl wanted something to present at the nativity to celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas Eve, but she wasn’t able to afford to buy a gift. In the story, the little girl gathered some plants from the side of the road to place at the nativity, and they miraculously bloomed into bright red stars. (Hence the poinsettia sometimes being called the Christmas Star plant.)
When Paul Ecke Jr. began cultivating and selling poinsettias around the holidays in the United States, the story followed and a new Christmas tradition was born! Since red flowers often represent deep love and celebration, the poinsettia also makes for a beautiful symbol of appreciation for family and loved ones gathered together during the holidays.
Ideas for Observing National Poinsettia Day
National Poinsettia Day can be a perfect time to put up your Christmas decorations if you haven’t already. These colorful plants are sure to put everyone in the holiday spirit, whether it’s your first year having them in your home or it’s been a family tradition for years. For those who like to give something back at Christmas, the spirit of goodwill and generosity captured by the traditional Mexican story above makes National Poinsettia Day a wonderful time to donate to a local charity or holiday giving program.
National Poinsettia Day is also a great time to remind friends and family how grateful you are to have them in your life this holiday season. Since poinsettias are now cultivated across the U.S., it’s easy to have one or more of these vibrant Christmas plants delivered on December 12. This year try sending a poinsettia plant to someone on your list to bring them holiday cheer!
Poinsettia Plant Care Instructions
Poinsettia plants can thrive throughout the winter months, meaning you don’t have to get rid of them right after Christmas. With the proper care, you can maintain your plants well into February or March. Below are some quick tips on how to care for a poinsettia:
- Place in a well-lit area. If you can arrange your poinsettias in an east-facing window to take advantage of the morning sun and indirect light throughout the afternoon and evening, this will be best.
- Water regularly in a pot with good drainage. Poinsettias tend to need frequent watering whenever the soil feels dry or the leaves start to wilt. Be sure any excess water can drain out the base of the pot to avoid root rot.
- Maintain warmer temperatures through winter. Since poinsettias are originally tropical plants, they need indoor temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees to thrive. You can also lightly mist the leaves each day to keep them vibrant and fresh.
Looking to keep your plants fresh well into the new year? Learn more about how to care for a poinsettia even after the Christmas season is over. We even have instructions on blooming your own poinsettias year after year! You can also send a poinsettia as a gift, or a number of other Christmas plants, with FTD.