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Poinsettia: the Christmas Flower

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The poinsettia is a red shrub that blooms in the winter and has come to be associated with Christmas.

Properly, the poinsettia is referred to as Euphorbia pulcherrima, a name given to it by a German botanist. The English translation is roughly "beautiful flower."

Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Guatemala and have grown there for a great number of years. Aztecs produced red dye from the shrub, which they named Cuetlaxochitl.

Mexican Christians began including the poinsettia in their Christmas celebrations in the 1600s. The legend surrounding the introduction of the shrub is that a poor girl wanting to provide some sort of gift picked up some of what she thought were weed by the side of the road and placed the "weeds" on the church altar; the weeds were poinsettia, which soon sprouted red flowers, in what was deemed a miracle.

The English name of the shrub comes from the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, who brought some of the shrubs back with him in 1825.

Poinsettias have become popular decorations for homes, offices, and churches in North America during the Christmas season. The U.S., in fact, has a National Poinsettia Day, which is December 12.


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