WTF Fun Fact 13103 – Dr. Joel Poinsett

Do you know where the poinsettia – the traditional flower of the Christmas season – got its name? We assumed it was a botanical concoction. But it was named after Dr. Joel Poinsett.

Who was Joel Poinsett?

If you’re beginning to decorate for the holidays this year, you may have picked up a few poinsettias. (And, hopefully, if you have pets, they are far out of reach!) The flowers are pretty long-lasting, so if you care for them, you can pick one up the day before Thanksgiving, and it may last all the way through New Year’s Eve!

The flowers – particularly the red ones – are a very common winter season decoration. And that’s been the case for many years thanks to Joel Poinsett.

Dr. Joel Poinsett was the United States Secretary of War in 1838. According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below),“…he presided over the United States Exploring Expedition, the first circumnavigation of the globe sponsored by the United States.” In choosing the team of explorers, he insist many scientists be included.

He got the job, in part, because he himself was a botanist. And when he served as the first U.S. minister to Mexico, he found the flower growing there. Locals told him it was once used by the Aztecs as both a red dye and a medicine to help reduce fevers.

Eventually, Poinsett became a founding member of the National Institution for the Promotion of Science when it was formed in 1840. The goal of the organization was to promote the study of natural history and other sciences.

The name “poinsettia”

Poinsett was a physician, diplomat, botanist, and more in a time when a man could be all of those things (partly because they didn’t require nearly as much formal training as they do now). But that’s to say that he has a lot more in his background than just a flower.

Upon finding the flower called the Flor de Nochebuena (or Christmas Eve flower) in Mexico, he sent a specimen back to the U.S. That’s when it became known as a poinsettia in his honor. But it had long been a Christmas flower.  WTF fun facts

Source: “How Joel Poinsett, the Namesake for the Poinsettia, Played a Role in Creating the Smithsonian” — Smithsonian Magazine

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