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Poinsettia Stamp stampPoinsettias, with their bright red leaves, are popular holiday decorations. Also known as the Christmas Star, the poinsettia is a subtropical plant best known for its striking red color. It’s often used as a floral Christmas decoration because of its bright colors. The plants are native to southern Mexico and Central America and in the United States can be found growing wild in Hawaii.

They are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister (a predecessor to ambassadors) to Mexico, who introduced the plant in the U.S. in 1825. Poinsett was so impressed with the brilliant red color of the plant that he sent some home from Mexico to South Carolina, where they thrived in his greenhouse.

Mexican legend tells how the poinsettia came to be a Christmas symbol. The story states that a child who could not afford a gift to offer to Christ on Christmas Eve picked some weeds from the side of a road. The child was told that a humble gift, if given in love, would be acceptable in God’s eyes. When the child brought the weeds to the church they bloomed into red and green flowers and the congregation felt they had witnessed a Christmas miracle. Franciscan friars in Mexico started including the plants, known as Flor de Buena Noche, or Christmas Eve Flower, in Christmas celebrations in the 17th century.

Today it’s easy to find and buy poinsettias during the winter months and they’re so popular they even have their own national day – Congress has declared December 12 to be National Poinsettia Day.

More: The History of Poinsettia