Poinsettia - 'Euphorbia pulcherrima'
The striking red and green poinsettia was a symbolic plant for the Aztecs who regarded it a gift from the gods. In the 16th century, a traditional Mexican Christmas story told of a poor child who wanted to present a gift to the baby Jesus. Unable to afford a special present, the child was forlorn, until an angel told them to pick weeds from the grass verges and lay them as a gift on the church altar. The weeds miraculously bloomed into the poinsettia.
The poinsettia is native to Central America and Mexico, where it is known as Flor de Noche Buena - Christmas Eve flower or Holy Night flower.
From the 17th century, poinsettias became part of the Christian tradition. Franciscan friars used them to decorate altars and in nativity processions. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolise the star of Bethlehem, while the blood-red foliage represents the blood of sacrifice.
Today, the poinsettia has become a popular Christmas gift and decoration the world over.