During the presidency of James Madison, Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) became the first American Ambassador to Mexico. He was the son of a French physician and had developed a deep interest in botany.
While visiting Taxco del Alarcon in 1828, he was delighted by the beautiful red plants he saw all around. Sending a few samples back to his greenhouses in South Carolina, he soon propagated the plants. They made special gifts for friends and a welcome addition to botanical gardens of the time.
One man gifted by the plant was John Bartram of Philadelphia. He gave it over to a Robert Buist, nurseryman in Pennsylvania. From there, the enchanting plant sold well to other Americans and became known in name for the man who brought it to America.
Since then, the man and his popular Christmas plant is honored on December 12 designated by Congress as National Poinsettia Day.
It is interesting to note that Mr. Poinsett founded the roots of today's Smithsonian Institution.
The Legend of the Poinsettia
The plant's connection with Christmas began in Mexico during the 1500's. It seems there was a poor Mexican girl named Pepita who had no gift for the Christ Child at Christmas Eve Services.
As she and her cousin Pedro walked to the chapel, a feeling of gloom overtook her heart. Pedro tried to console her by reminding her that it isn't a fancy gift that is important but that any gift of love is acceptable.
Rather than appear empty handed, she picked out some weeds and tried to make a pretty bouquet of them. Pepita felt tears come to her eyes as she walked through the doors of the village chapel with her drab gift for the One she adored above all.
As she approached the altar, the love within her shone bright. She knelt to leave the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene and suddenly felt a warming spirit all around her. The bouquet she dropped started to bloom into bursts of brilliant red and green. It was Christmas miracle of love!
Since then, the bright red flowers became known as Flowers of the Holy Night and come back every year at Christmas time.