The Unbelievably Entertaining Journey of the Poinsettia: From Fever Fighter to Festive Decor

Ah, the poinsettia—those vibrant, red plants that seem to pop up everywhere during the holiday season. They grace many places around the United States from the halls of the White House to the cozy corners of your home, but how did they become the darlings of December decor? Let’s dive into the wild journey of this festive foliage.


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Long before they bedazzled holiday tables, poinsettias were Aztec fever-fighting champions! Yep, these fiery red beauties were prized for their medicinal properties, not their flashy looks. It wasn’t until 1828 that the poinsettia made its grand debut in America, and boy, did it make an entrance! Joel Roberts Poinsett, a man with a knack for botany (and a pretty sweet gig as the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico), stumbled upon these dazzling red blooms during his time in Mexico. He was spellbound by the poinsettias' iconic vibrant bracts. You’ve got that right — bracts, not petals. Poinsettias are technically not flowers, believe it or not, they are actually plants that can flower from the center of where the bracts grow from. 


Joel shipped these plants off to his buddy Robert Buist in the U.S., a fellow plant enthusiast. Buist, also enchanted by their fiery hue, renamed and sold them as "Euphorbia pulcherrima," because why not highlight their beauty to the masses? But here’s the kicker: the original poinsettia grew as a tree in Mexico. It was a horticultural giant compared to today's compact versions, so it didn’t really gain popularity in homes until Paul Ecke Sr. developed the first poinsettia plants that could be grown indoors. He began peddling them in California in the early 1900’s.

Fast forward to the present day, and poinsettias are the rockstars of holiday plants in the USA. Now, forget what you know about poinsettias being just red. There are tons of varieties out there! We carry many of these varieties at McDonald Garden Center, including, but not limited to: the traditional red, variegated, white, pink, speckled, rose-shaped, and more!

Caring for your poinsettias may seem intimidating after hearing about their fabulously lush history, but don’t worry! We’ve got you covered. Let's talk care tips for these holiday stars:

  • Treat your poinsettia like a VIP—give it a south-facing window with loads of light (but not direct so it won’t burn the bracts), and keep it away from chilly drafts and heaters.
  • They love a cozy 68°F during the day and slightly cooler temps at night.
  • Water wisely; let the soil dry slightly before hydrating them again.
  • Want to revive it next season? It's possible! But brace yourself for some TLC, a bit of strategic darkness, and a summer vacation outdoors.

So, as you deck the halls with these festive wonders, remember their fascinating journey—from fever fighter to centerpiece superstar! And if you're up for the challenge, maybe even give that poinsettia a chance to bloom again next year. Who knows, you might just unleash your inner horticultural wizard! To learn more about what’s growing on at the garden center, check out Mike, the Garden Guru, and his webinars with new plants, products, and expert planting advice. To keep inspired and grow with us, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok to dig into the joys of gardening!