Home Grounds Blog

Are you a trivia buff? If so, perhaps you'd be interested in knowing a little bit more about the poinsettia plant you buy every Christmas.

1. Did you know that the poinsettia's main attraction is not its flowers, but its leaves? The flowers of the plant are the yellow, clustered buds in the center. The colored leafy parts are actually bracts or modified leaves. Greenhouse Poinsettia.jpg

Red is the most popular color, accounting for roughly three-quarters of all sales nationwide, followed by white and pink. Poinsettias range in color from red, and salmon, or apricot to yellow, cream, and white. There are unusual speckled or marbled varieties like "Jingle Bells" and "Candy Cane" with several colors blended together. New varieties are introduced every year. 
2. How many poinsettias do you think are sold in a year? Would you believe that more than 65 million were sold nationwide in 2011? In economic terms, that's $237 million out of a total of $781 million in sales of all flowering potted plants! Although every state in the United States grows poinsettias commercially, California is the top producer with about 27 million pots grown, followed by Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan, each with about 14 million pots. 
3. Did you know that the poinsettia can reach heights of 12 feet with leaves measuring six to eight inches across? It is actually a small tropical tree belonging to the Euphorbia plant family. Its botanical name is Euphorbia pulcherrima. A native of southern Mexico, the poinsettia blooms in December and has been used in that country to decorate churches for centuries. In the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, the Aztecs used the poinsettia leaves to dye fabric for clothing and the sap for medicinal purposes, including helping control fevers. They also considered the red color a symbol of purity, and so poinsettias were traditionally part of religious ceremonies.
4. Who brought this flower to the US?  Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, an amateur botanist and first United States ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant that became known as the poinsettia to this country. Poinsett continued to study and breed this plant in his greenhouse, sharing plants with his horticulturist friends.  It soon gained acceptance as a holiday plant, despite its very short bloom time. In the 1960s, researchers were able to successfully breed plants to bloom more than just a few days.
5. Did you know that we have a national observance day to honor Poinsett?  December 12th is National Poinsettia Day. Believe it or not, the United States has observed this official day since the mid-1800s. It honors the man and the plant that started a new industry. Poinsett died Dec.12, 1851.
6. True or False? The poinsettia is a poisonous plant. If you answered false, you're correct. The plant has been tested repeatedly and cleared of this charge by the National Poison Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and the American Medical Association. The Poison Index (POINSINDEX) Information Service, the main information resource for poison control centers across the country, reports that even if a 50-pound child consumed more than 500 poinsettia bracts the consequences would not be fatal. However, this does NOT mean that poinsettias should be eaten. Ingestion can cause stomach irritation and discomfort. The sticky white sap also may cause skin irritation for some people.
7. Do you know the best way to prolong the life of this Christmas plant? Avoid hot or cold drafts, keep the soil moist not soggy, and place in a room with sufficient natural light and temperatures of around 60 to 70 degrees F. Water when the soil begins to dry. Waiting until the leaves begin to wilt, it's too late. Above all, protect it from exposure to wind or cold on the way home from the store. Poinsettias are highly sensitive to cold temperatures and even a few minutes of exposure to 50-degree F or lower temperatures will cause them to wilt. But when cared for properly, poinsettias usually will outlast your desire to keep them!  
(Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont was used as a resource for this article.)
Mike McQueen, Home Grounds Regional Extension Agent



Rachel Webb

1/4/2013 9:22 AM
I've often wondered how long a poinsettia plant could last. I'm trying to keep mine going this year on a window shelf in my kitchen. So far, they're doing ok.

kerry smith

1/4/2013 9:41 AM
Though simple to keep the plants alive - just think of them as other tropical indoor plants - making them color up again next december is a little tricky.  Here's our publication on growing poinsettias  http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0894/ANR-0894.pdf 

Good luck with your project and happy gardening!