Why was the Mexican “Noche Buena” flower named “Poinsettia”?

Poinsettias, the beautiful red-and-green plant synonymous with the Christmas season, have a surprising connection to the South.

As The Post and Courier recently pointed out, the man who discovered the plant was Joel Roberts Poinsett, a U.S. diplomat born in Charleston in 1779, three years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Though he called the Holy City home, Poinsett, a passionate botanist, spent much of his life exploring the globe. After serving as a Special Envoy to Argentina and Chile, Poinsett took a role as head of the South Carolina Board of Public Works from 1817 to 1820—when was elected to congress. Then, in 1822, Poinsett was appointed by President Andrew Jackson to serve as the country’s first ambassador to Mexico.

The Post and Courier reports that while in Mexico, Poinsett introduced the American Elm in exchange for some cuttings of hibiscus and mimosa plants. And it was there, growing free on the side of a road in the city of Taxco, that Poinsett discovered his namesake plant.

Intrigued by the fiery plant indigenous to Mexico and prized by native Aztec tribes, Poinsett sent cuttings of the plant back to South Carolina. He began growing the plants in his greenhouse and sending them to friends and botanical gardens.

Today, the vibrant plant bearing his name is the most popular potted plant in the U.S., selling 71 million plants each year. Not a bad legacy if you ask us!