Childrens Book Review of The Legend of the Poinsettia Retold and Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

by DerdriuMarriner

Poinsettias are perfect holiday plants. They bloom bright green and pretty red in December. “The Legend of the Poinsettia” charmingly covers their role as Holy Night’s fire flower.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are native to:
• Costa Rica and Nicaragua, possibly;
• Guatemala and Mexico, definitely.

The uncertainty of botanists and horticulturists as to exact bio-geographies arises from Central America’s:
• complex politico-economics;
• difficult terrain.

It does not get shared by Mesoamerican cultures. Locals exhibit considerable reticence at sharing information with outsiders, with peoples of recent, seasonal or temporary associations. It nevertheless follows that the world’s explorers and powerholders are persevering. So scientific advances and technological breakthroughs inevitably hold the winning hands that trump the world’s mysteries. It is the reason why biologists, if not bio-geographers, know Mexico’s iconic wildflower so well.

That knowledge base always may be expanded culturally and historically, through “The Legend of the Poinsettia.”

perfectly manicured poinsettia plant

Euphorbia pulcherrima cultivar
Euphorbia pulcherrima cultivar


Flora-lovers in the United States of America associate poinsettias with potted houseplants whose bracts become red, flowers bloom yellow, leaves remain green, and lifespan runs annually. Plant-lovers in Latin America contrastingly connect them with shrubs whose growth habit is unruly and whose life cycle is perennial. The differences honor culture-specific contexts of the flowering plant known as:

  • Christmas flower, fire flower, flower of the Holy Night, painted leaves, and poinsettia in English;
  • Cuetlaxochitl (“residue flower”) in central Mexico’s Nahuatl language;
  • Estrella federal (“federal flower”), flor de fuego (“fire flower”), flor de Navidad (“Nativity flower”), noche buena (“Holy Night”), pascuero (“Easter [plant]”), and pastora (“shepherd [plant]”) in Spanish;
  • Euphorbia pulcherrima (Euphorbos’s most beautiful [plant]) in binomial (“two-name”) nomenclature.


In "The Legend of the Poinsettia," Lucida, distraught over tangling the weaving for baby Jesus' blanket, picks a tangle of wild poinsettias to leave at the church altar:

In its native homelands of Mexico and Central America, poinsettia is familiar in wild habitats.
Belize, eastern coast, Central America
Belize, eastern coast, Central America


A Mexican legend begins with:

  • Lucida assisting her parents and -- with siblings Lupe and Paco -- restocking the Virgin of Guadalupe’s shrine candles;
  • Mama Martínez cleaning house and making tortillas;
  • Papa farming with Pepito the donkey.

The family comes to all of San Gabriel’s fiestas, holy days, and Masses. Padre Alvarez gets Lucida and Mama to buy and rainbow-dye super-fine wool for weaving the Baby Jesus figure’s Christmas blanket. But Señora Gomez gives Lucida the news of:

  • Papa and Tía Carmen leaving with super-sick Mama;
  • The present remaining unfinished.

Lucida is worried about Jesus’s gift. She leaves tangled weeds at San Gabriel’s manger. Jesus transforms them into Holy Night’s flaming red starred poinsettias every Christmas thenceforth.


In "The Legend of the Poinsettia," Lucida and her siblings Lupe and Paco help their parents to restock the Virgin of Guadalupe's shrine candles:

Original Picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe (also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe) shown in Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City
Nueva Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
Nueva Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe



The Legend of the Poinsettia can be found under many Christmas trees. This “must-own," 1994-published book counts among standard decorations and props of:

  • Advent;
  • Christmas;
  • Epiphany.

Its characters, dialogue, and plot express the simple eloquence of Mexican mountain village life structured around:

  • Church;
  • Community;
  • Crops;
  • Family.

It represents the sublime collaboration of:  

  • Patrick Collins, as designer;
  • Tomie de Paola, as illustrator and reteller;
  • Clarita Kohen, as Spanish translator;
  • G.P. Putnam’s Sons, as publishers;
  • South China Printing Co. Ltd., as Hong Kong-based printers.

Set in Palatino, the text rewards ages 4 – 8 and up and grades preschool through third grade and onward with ample opportunities for parent-, peer-, and teacher-facilitated forays into:

  • Cultural enrichment;
  • Educational entertainment;
  • Spanish language-learning.


Poinsettia Legend ~ narrated by author-illustrator Tomie dePaola

Published on YouTube on December 10, 2013 by Kristi Marino ~ URL:



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


A Christmas tree formed from poinsettias, topped with five-pointed star of Bethlehem finial

San Diego, southern California
San Diego, southern California

Sources Consulted


“Annie’s ‘Poinsettia’ Page.” Annie’s Home Retrieved December 2014.

  • Available at:

Cavanaugh, Fr. Brian. December 1999. “Legend of the Poinsettia.” Apple Steubenville, OH: Franciscan University. Retrieved December 2014.

  • Available at:

Cavanaugh, Fr. Brian. 2001. Miracle of the Poinsettia: Milagro de la Flor de Nochebuena. Illustration by Dennis Rockhill. Con tradicción al español de Carmen Lopez-Platek. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press Sower’s Seeds Series.

de Paola, Tomie. 1994. The Legend of the Poinsettia. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Ecke, Paul. 1960. The Greenhouse Culture of the Potted Poinsettia, the Christmas Plant. Encinitas, CA: Paul Ecke, Inc.

Ecke, Paul; and Matkin, O.A. 1971. The Poinsettia Manual. Encinitas, CA: Paul Ecke Poinsettias.

Ecke III, Paul; Faust, James E.; Williams, Jack; and Higgins, Andy. 2004. The Ecke Poinsettia Manual. Batavia, IL: Ball Publishing.

“History and Legend of the Poinsettia.” About Flower > Holidays > Occasions & Parties > Christmas. Alexandria, VA: Society of American Florists. Retrieved December 2014.

  • Available at:

Jain, S. Mohan; and Ochatt, Sergio J. (eds.). 2010. Protocols for In Vitro Propagation of Ornamental Plants. New York, NY: Humana Press.

“Legend of Poinsettia.” Christmas World. World of Christmas Stories. Retrieved December 2014.

  • Available at:

“The Legend of the Poinsettia.” Just 4 Kids Retrieved December 2014.

  • Available at:

“The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola.” Teachers > Book. Retrieved December 2014.

  • Available at:

Marousky, Francis John. 1967. Effects of Temperature, Light and Nutrition on Color and Anthocyanin Content of Poinsettia Bracts. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Polytechnic Institute PhD. Thesis.

Pizano Salazar, Marta. 1983. Bacterial Canker of Poinsettia.


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

In Mexico, the poinsettia is called flor de la Nochebuenao flower of the Holy Night.
Tomie dePaola stories

Cordless Lighted Poinsettia Garland ~ as mantle decoration provides festive flourish to stockings!

Adds festive decoration, with no outlet needed. Glows with miniature LED lights in festive flower's center.
poinsettia-themed products

view of Cordless Lighted Poinsettia Garland decorating stair banister

J.H. Smith Company
J.H. Smith Company

Poinsettias: white t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 12/04/2014

WriterArtist, A tree made from poinsettias is indeed a beautiful "tree."
Poinsettias are so vibrant that me, too, I see only beautiful and "wonderful and many uses"!

WriterArtist on 12/03/2014

Wonderful and many uses of this beautiful plant - like the idea of making Christmas tree from poinsettia.

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