Also known as the Mexican flame leaf or Christmas star or Noche Buena , the poinsettia, is a plant known for its striking red displays at Christmas time. It is often used as a floral Christmas decoration because of its festive colors. Poinsettias are native to southern Mexico and Central America, where they may reach heights of sixteen feet. They are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant in the U.S. in 1825.
A Mexican legend explains how poinsettias came to be associated with Christmas. Apparently, 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 brought into the church, the weeds bloomed into red and green flowers and the congregation felt they had witnessed a Christmas miracle.
The Aztec Indians prized poinsettias and considered them a symbol of purity because of their brilliant red color. They made a reddish-purple dye from the colored "flowers", which are actually modified leaves called bracts. They also made a medicine against fevers from the latex sap of the plant.The "birth flowers" are actually large bunches of colored leaves; the flowers themselves are in the center of each leaf bunch, but rather small and inconspicuous.