The poinsettia is without a doubt the most popular Christmas flower. The usual color choice is the deep, vibrant red. However, there is a wide array of other colors, including pink, white, marbled, speckled and yellow. The colorful parts of the poinsettia, the bracts, are actually modified leaves. The poinsettia flower is small, green or yellow and situated in the middle of the bracts.
The Aztecs called poinsettias "Cuetlaxochitle." During the 14th-16th centuries the sap was used to control fevers and the bracts (modified leaves) were used to make a reddish dye. Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, would have poinsettias brought by his followers into what now is Mexico City because poinsettias could not be grown in the high altitude.
William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, was asked to give Euphorbia pulcherrima a new name as it became more popular. At that time Mr. Prescott had just published the book "Conquest of Mexico," in which he detailed Joel Poinsett's discovery of the plant. So, Prescott named the plant the poinsettia in honor of Joel Poinsett's discovery. Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, being appointed by President Andrew Jackson in the 1820s. At the time of his appointment, Mexico was involved in a civil war. Because of his interest in botany, he introduced the American elm into Mexico. During his stay in Mexico he wandered the countryside looking for new plant species. In 1828 he found a beautiful shrub with large red flowers growing next to a road. He took cuttings from the plant and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. Even though Poinsett had an outstanding career as a U.S. congressman and as an ambassador, he will always be remembered for introducing the poinsettia into the United States.