Poinsettias have been called the lobster flower and flame leaf flower. By any name, they are the Christmas flower, although their flowers actually aren’t the colorful parts for which they are known.
But like an eager child who hasn’t made a wish list yet can’t wait to open gifts on Christmas morning, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
First, some poinsettia background:
- Native to Mexico, poinsettias are perennial shrubs that can grow 10 to 15 feet tall.
- Poinsettias were introduced to the United States in 1825 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
- Dec. 12 is National Poinsettia Day in America, marking Poinsett’s death in 1851.
- Poinsettias were first successfully grown outside Mexico by Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, a 50-acre National Historic Landmark that still operates.
Some people pronounce it “poinsetta” (three syllables), and others say “poinsettia,” (four syllables). We’re not sticklers either way. It’s more important that you enjoy your poinsettia and get the most out of it.
Grown in all 50 states
But while there’s leeway when it comes to pronunciation, there are strongly rooted facts about poinsettias:
- The colored parts of poinsettias aren’t flowers but bracts (leaves).
- Poinsettias come in more than 100 varieties, from traditional red and white to pink and burgundy, marbled and speckled.
- Poinsettias are commercially grown in all 50 states.
- Ninety percent of all poinsettias are exported from the United States.
- Contrary to popular myth, poinsettias are not poisonous, to humans or pets: An Ohio State study found that a 50-pound child who ate 500 bracts might have a slight tummy ache. Some people with latex allergies have had skin reactions to the sap that comes from poinsettia leaves.
Poinsettias are happiest in conditions that approximate their Mexican origin: as much bright light as possible, warm and never sitting in water. Like humans, they don’t like wet feet.
The plants can suffer from droopy leaves, a condition known as epinasty, if they are exposed to cold temperatures or experience a build-up of ethylene gas.
If you’ve ever shopped for poinsettias at a big-box retailer, you may have seen a rack of them still in their protective sleeves. What you’re really seeing is those plants being ruined because the sleeves trap ethylene gas. An experienced florist knows to remove the sleeves as soon as possible.
By any name or pronunciation, poinsettias are a beautiful and safe holiday tradition, a gift of Mexican origin that keeps giving to the world nearly two centuries later.
Additional source: University of Illinois Extension