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Poinsettias in Bloom

Posted on Tuesday, December 5, 2023
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by AMAC, D.J. Wilson
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Poinsettias

Poinsettias are popular holiday plants that are found in households across America. The plants typically feature large and stunning crimson leaves with small and vibrant yellow flowers.  Curious about them? Read on to learn more!

So popular!

Poinsettias are popular commercially grown potted plants. They are prized for their red and green festive foliage, making them welcome additions to homes decorated for the holiday season. Per FFA.org, they are America’s number one selling potted plant, contributing $250 million to our national economy.

A little background

The distinctive plants were used by the Aztecs to produce red dye. They called the plant “Cuetlaxochitl” meaning “flower that withers, mortal flower that perishes like all that is pure.” Early on, the sap was also used to help control fevers. Poinsettias were primarily associated with Christmas in the 1600s when Franciscan priests in Southern Mexico used the vibrant bracts (leaves that look like petals) to decorate nativity sets. Thus, the red blooms are not actually the flower part. Instead, the yellow bloom found at the center of the bracts are technically the flower. The star shaped leaves are believed to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, making them special Christmas plants.   

The name association

Native to Mexico and Central America, the plants were brought to the U.S. around 1826 by the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. The poinsettia flower plant was named in honor of this ambassador and U.S. congressman. Poinsett was also a physician and an avid botanist. The botanical name of the poinsettia is “euphorbia pulcherrima” which means “very beautiful.”  In their countries of origin, the attractive plants are grown as perennial shrubs, reaching heights of up to 15 feet. They often grow on rocky hillsides and in moist, wet, and wooded ravines.

Toxic or non-toxic?

Poinsettia plants are generally not deadly, as they were once rumored to be. However, if eaten they can cause rashes and stomach upset like diarrhea and vomiting, so it is best to avoid ingesting them. Some people may get a rash from handling them. Because the plants are mildly toxic to animals, it’s best to keep the plants at a safe distance from pets. Should your pet consume parts of the plant, do contact your veterinarian promptly.

Top cultivator

Today, California is the top producer of U.S. grown poinsettias, but the plants can be grown in all states. North Carolina produces the second most poinsettias in the United States. There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettias that have U.S. patents. In addition to red, they come in many shades to include white, pink, mottled and striped. The red remains in greatest demand over the holiday season, when more poinsettias are sold nationwide during the Christmas season than any other flowering plant all year long.

Lovely gifts

Poinsettias are delightful holiday houseplants. They are frequently given as gifts due to their beauty and affordability. Most people keep them for two to three months following the holiday season and discard the plants when they become unattractive. People tend to toss them when the leaves fall. These plants can last; however, they require specialized care and treatment to trigger reblooms the following year. Since many are discarded, some municipalities have established recycling programs for poinsettias.

Giving them life

Should you choose to keep your poinsettia, Iowa State University shares tips on how to maintain the plant year-round. They also provide care ideas to encourage the poinsettia to bloom again. Click here to learn more.

Significant dates 

December 12 is known as National Poinsettia Day?  It is true! The date marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett who sent cuttings of the plant from Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. In July 2022, the House of Representatives passed a Resolution to honor Paul Ecke Jr., father of the Poinsettia industry. Ecke discovered a technique/formula which made the Poinsettia industry flourish into an enormous U.S. business.

If you enjoyed this article on poinsettias, click here to access other festive content over throughout the holiday season.

This article is purely informational and is not intended as a scientific or medical resource.

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