Although the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherima) is among the most traditional symbols of the Christmas season,it was cultivated by the Aztecs of Mexico long before the introduction of Christianity to the Western Hemisphere. These plants were highly prized by Kings Netzahualcyotl and Montezuma, but because of climatic restrictions could not be grown in their capital, which is now Mexico City.
Perhaps the first religious connotations were placed on poinsettias during the seventeenth century. Because of its brilliant color and holiday blooming time Franciscan priests, near Taxco, began to use the flower in the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre, a nativity procession.
Poinsettias were first introduced into the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett. While serving as the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, he had occasion to visit Taxco and found the plants growing on adjacent hillsides. Poinsett, a botanist of great ability, had some plants sent to his home in Greenville, South Carolina.
After supplying his own greenhouses, Poinsett also distributed plants to various botanical gardens and to some horticultural friends, including John Bartram of Philadelphia. Bartram, in turn, supplied the plant to Robert Buist, a nurseryman, who first sold the plant as Euphorbia poinsettia. The botanical name had already been given by a German taxonomist in 1833 as Euphorbia pulcherima. The poinsettia, however, has remained the accepted name in English speaking countries.
Today, poinsettias are one of the most important floricultural crops produced in the United States. Grown primarily as a potted plant for the Christmas season, total U. S. poinsettia production was valued at $66 million in 1980. This represents over a 300% increase in production over a 10 year period.
Poinsettias also represent a major floricultural crop in Texas. At present poinsettia production is valued at approximately $9 million annually and involves over 700 producers statewide.
Because of the growing population statewide, the demand for potted poinsettias has increased throughout Texas. Although demand is highest from approximately December 10th through the 25th, there is an increasing interest in plants for the growing Thanksgiving Day market.
Projections for the next 3-5 years indicate that demand will remain steady with a slight increase at a rate of approximately 3-5%.