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JIM “PAPPY” MOORE: Joel Poinsett Namesake of the Christmas Poinsettia


It is Christmastime. That means our schools, businesses, stores, churches and homes show off a Texas delight – the Christmas plant which we all know so well.  We call them Poinsettias.  Have you ever wondered how they got that name?  It’s a really good story.

Back in 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, and the young United States immediately sent diplomats to the new government to the south. Mexico held title to the land we call Texas.  An American diplomat named Joel Poinsett was sent to Mexico in the foreign service of the United States. 

A former congressman from South Carolina – Joel Poinsett – was deeply interested in botany and found the study of plants most facsinating.  While in Mexico, he discovered the indigenously growing cuetlaxochitl, which was the Aztec word for the leafy plant that bloomed in southern Mexico in the winter.

Poinsett was intrigued by the plant and quickly began promoting it to those in the United States he knew.  He grew it in hot houses he maintained in the United States and tirelessly marketed it.  He sent the plant to friends and relatives. Its popularly was instant.  Its compact size, its green and red, and its Christmas time blooming meant it was a plant made for America.

By 1836 the plant had become known in the United States as the Poinsettia. Since then, the plant has become synonymous with Christmas and is emblematic of Texas, where our days are the perfect length to make the plants bloom near Christmas.

I first learned the intriguing story of how we came to have a plant called the “Poinsettia” almost fifty years ago. I was a student after Stephen F. Austin State University majoring in History and Political Science. My favorite History teacher was the same Archie McDonald who once wrote for many newspapers about Texas History, the same Archie McDonald whose columns many times adorned the page four Op-Ed page of The Gilmer Mirror.

After my military time from 1968-1972, I had a hunger for historical knowledge and pursued it daily at SFASU.  It was not long before I took my first of several courses from Professor McDonald, author of a biography of famous Alamo commander, William Barrett Travis, and author of a dozen other books.  

It was professor McDonald who first told me the story of how Joel Poinsett’s ambassadorship to Mexico in the period before the Texas Revolution which led to the introduction of the seasonally blooming plant to our country.

We know about the Joel Poinsetts of History because historians such as Archie McDonalds have told us. When you see the Poinsetta, remember the man who brought the Christmas plant to America! Joel Poinsett.

Copyright 2021, Jim “Pappy” Moore. All rights reserved.

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