Poinsettia a Christmas plant with a rich, and lucrative, history

Although the poinsettia is known as the Christmas Flower, its famous velvety red “petals” are actually leaves.

Its flowers are the “tiny yellow flowers” in the center, Todd Jacobson, head of horticulture at the Morton Arboretum in Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune. The red, crimson leaves are called bracts.

The holiday bloom originally came from the understory of moist, warm, low-altitude forests in Mexico and Central America, the newspaper reported. Mexicans call it flor de nochebuena (Christmas Eve flower), because the Christmas plant turns red just before the holiday.

In 1828, Joel Poinsett, then the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, sent a clipping of the plant back to his home in South Carolina, KXTV reported. After sharing the plant with people, it was eventually called the Poinsettia, taking after his last name.

Then, nearly a century ago, a California entrepreneur, Paul Ecke, made poinsettias a holiday season mainstay, Discover Magazine reported.

Ecke figured out how to grow poinsettias as an indoor potted plant, the magazine reported. When the family business was sold in 2012, the company controlled half of the worldwide poinsettia market.

Today poinsettia sales account for about a quarter of all flower sales in the U.S., and California is the top producer, KXTV reported.