Poinsettia pointers

Horticulture Hints

Poinsettia

No flower says Christmas like the beautiful poinsettia. When one thinks of holiday plants, the poinsettia is the first that comes to mind. A member of the spurge family, poinsettias were given the scientific name of Euphorbia pulcherrima (meaning most beautiful euphorbia) in 1833. Have you ever wondered how this plant first became a symbol of Christmas?

Poinsettias were cultivated in Mexico by the Aztecs long before it arrived to the United States. The first poinsettia cuttings were shipped to the U.S. in 1825 by Dr. Joel Poinsett, the Ambassador to Mexico, who discovered the plant growing wild on the hillsides there. Dr. Poinsett, who was a botanist, propagated the cuttings in his South Carolina greenhouses, and sent them on to his family and friends. Poinsett also distributed the plants to his horticultural friends and various botanical gardens. Thus became the origin of the common name for this plant, poinsettia.

By 1836 the plant’s popularity grew to become known as a holiday plant and today millions of poinsettias are grown and sold by thousands of USA greenhouse operations. There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available today.

Through breeding efforts, poinsettias are now available in all shades of reds to purple, pinks, bicolored, white, salmon, yellow, marbled and speckled bracts. But the traditional red color still accounts for 80% of all sales.

Worried about your children or pets eating this plant? It is good to know that laboratory studies have shown that the leaves, stems, bracts, and flowers are not toxic to people or pets. A 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have any harmful effect, plus poinsettia leaves have an awful taste.

Did you know? Many plants in the Euphorbia family ooze a milky sap. Some people with latex allergies have had a skin reaction (most likely to the sap) after touching the leaves.

Horticulture Questions? Contact McCormick at yvonne@iastate.edu for information or advice.

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