The Poinsettia has its origins in Central America. The plant flourished in an area of Southern Mexico known as Taxco del Alarcon. The people of Mexico tell the legend of a little girl who went to the local church one night with her brother to honor Jesus on Christmas Eve. The little girl was embarrassed because she did not have a gift to offer the baby King. She pondered the troubling thought and as she walked she noticed the weeds growing by the side of the road. She bent down and picked a handful of the wild weeds, arranging them the best she could to form a humble bouquet. When they arrived at the church the little girl walked to the cradle of the nativity to leave her offering. When she set down the weeds they transformed into bright red poinsettia flowers. And, the people called it a Christmas miracle. That is how the plant became known as Flor de Nochebuena or Christmas Eve Flower.
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History & Origins
Poinsettias are native to Mexico. The leaves of the plant were used by the Aztecs to make colored dyes for fabrics and the sap was used for medicinal purposes, like curing fevers.
The Poinsettia was first brought to the US by a man named Joel Robert Poinsett in 1825. He was the first United States Minister to Mexico. December 12th is National Poinsettia Day in memory of this man, who died on Dec. 12, 1851.
Check out these websites for more information on the history of the Poinsettia.
Mixed Media Poinsettia Art
The Poinsettia and its beautiful red color are perfect for art projects. We did a simple mixed media project with paint, colored pencil, and colored paper.
My kids started by painting and drawing their pots. While the paint was drying, I made a simple cardboard leaf template from a cereal box. We traced and cut out green and red leaves. My kindergartener loved the fine motor fun of tracing and cutting leaves. Then, to make their “plants” my kids glued their leaves to the paper above their pots.
Poinsettia Dye Project
I couldn’t resist trying to make a dye out of the Poinsettia leaves. It was a fun hands-on way to tie in the Poinsettias history to the Aztec culture.
*I wouldn’t do this project if you think your child will try to put leaves in their mouth. And, I would suggest wearing gloves if they’re young so they don’t get any of the dye on their skin. Also, if there is a concern of latex allergy then skip this project because the sap can cause skin irritation in people with latex allergies.
I had my kids put on rubber gloves and then each of them picked a few of the red leaves to put in a plastic freezer bag. I cut two squares of fabric and a leaf from a piece of white fabric for each of them and then they put them in the plastic bag with the leaves and added a little water. The kids crushed the leaves with their hands to extract the red color. The whole project took about 10 minutes so it was fast and easy to do. My son especially loved the hands-on aspect. He was able to jump around, crushing leaves. Kinesthetic learning success.
We had never tried something like this before so we were just winging it. And, while the fabric didn’t turn red it is definitely a shade of pink. My son’s fabric pieces came out darker than my daughter’s because he was able to apply more pressure while crushing the leaves.
Resources for Further Study
12 Fun Facts about Poinsettias from the University of Vermont
Poinsettia Facts from the University of Illinois