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How the Poinsettia Became a Christmas Decoration

One of my favorite plant stories is how the poinsettia became a popular Christmas flower here in America.

In the nineteenth century it was common for garden magazines or journals to include articles from other garden publications.  The source of the orignal story would then appear at the end of the article.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) included an article about the poinsettia in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in May of 1876 from the English weekly journal called Gardeners’ Chronicle.

The article, simply entitled Poinsettia’ said, “Passing by these old friends, not without a word of hearty welcome be it well understood, we come to another plant which has been of late years an almost indispensable adjunct of Christmas decorations, be they of church or hall–the brilliant Poinsettia pulcherrima, the bright scarlet bracts of which give the head of blossoms a flower-like appearance, and serve admirably to lighten up the somewhat somber masses of evergreen…

The December show of Poinsettias at UNH Durham, NH
The December show of Poinsettias at the University of New Hampshire greenhouse in Durham, NH

“Its name commemorates a French traveler, M. Poinsett, by whom the plant was introduced to cultivation. He brought specimens to Charleston from Mexico in 1828, whence they were taken to Philadelphia; and specimens sent from the latter place to Edinburgh [Scotland] flowered in 1835, since which date it has become increasingly popular and plentiful in our stores.” (p. 138, GM)

In the nineteenth century British horticulturists with the help of Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist made the poinsettia, native to Mexico, available to the public.  American gardeners came to treasure the plant as an indispensable part of the Christmas holiday.

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