Joel Roberts Poinsett
(1779 - 1851)
The Swedish have called it "julstjarea", "Christmas Star". The British call it "Mexican flameleaf". And the Mexicans call it la Flor de la Noche Buena or "Christmas Eve Flower". But to the Americans it is the Christmas Poinsettia. All because a US ambassador to Mexico brought the plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) to America. That man was Joel Roberts Poinsett.
Joel Poinsett was born on March 2nd, 1779 in Charleston, South Carolina. As a very educated young person he was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, and German. He had studied medicine, law, and military science. Early on he had the opportunity to travel for eight years in Europe.
His service to the United States was as Secretary of War under President Martin Van Buren and as the first ambassador to Mexico. He also spearheaded what is now known as the Smithsonian Institution. He expanded the operations of West Point and was a US Congressman.
But throughout all these endeavors, Mr. Poinsett collected cultural and horticultural artifacts the world over.
Although we remember him the most by what he brought back from Mexico, the poinsettia, in 1826, he was continually interested in all sorts of plants. He also brought home red and yellow mimosa, the Mexican rose, and a very interesting hibiscus capable of changing from white to pink all in a single day.
His interests in crops advocating growing cork, grapes, camphor, and flax in the South. He was forever sending all sorts of species to botanical gardens in the US.
Joel Poinsett was intently interested in agricultural practices of the day. He experimented with composts, crop rotation, and attempts for creating better yields in hemp, peas, clover, and rice.
Friends from around the world exchanged and sent seeds to him for discovery in how well they would grow in his beloved Southeastern U.S.
At the age of 72 he died at the home of his doctor in Stateburg, South Carolina.
In his honor, Poinsett State Park has been created in S.C.
He is buried at the Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg, S.C.