Can you guess what is the best-selling potted plant in the United States and Canada? I was amazed to learn that the Poinsettia is the most popular by far. Here are some other interesting tidbits:
History & Legends
The Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, means very beautiful
The showy leaves, called “bracts”, and are not the actual flower. With the proper light and temperature, the bracts accumulate the anthocyanin pigments that give them their color. The flowers of the poinsettia are in the center of the bracts, along with the sweet, fragrant nectar.
The cultivation of Poinsettias originated with the Aztecs hundreds of years ago in Mexico. Montezuma, the last Aztec king, would have Poinsettias brought into the city, which is now known as Mexico City, by caravans because he liked them so much.
Aztecs used the bracts, the colored portion, as a dye, and the sap as a medicinal to control fevers.
Joel Poinsett, a botanist and the first U.S. minister to Mexico in 1825, found the plant blooming on the side of the road, which the native people regarded as a weed, took cuttings, and sent some plants to his home in South Carolina.
Poinsett shared his finds with other plant enthusiasts and that is how the poinsettia came to the United States.
The Ecke family in California, grew Poinsettias in southern California in the 1920’s, primarily as a cut flower and landscape plant and remain to this day, the largest producer of Poinsettias in the US.
Grown as field grown potted plants for the cut flower trade, Poinsettias were shipped all over the country by train. Poinsettias really gained wide-spread recognition through media promotions on The Tonight Show and the Bob Hope Christmas Specials. This promotion ensured that Poinsettias were as much a part of the holiday tradition as Christmas evergreen trees.
When the flowers or stems are cut, they ooze a milky sap that can cause people with latex sensitivities to have an allergic reaction.
Poinsettias are not poisonous.
Red is the most popular color, and the variety called “Prestige Red” tops the popularity list.
Poinsettias are now the best-selling potted plant in the U.S. and Canada!!
Breeding of the poinsettia began with the goal of improving cultivars that would retain their leaves and bracts for a longer period. The breeding also created stronger stems, multiple branching, earlier blooming, and the palette of colors that we recognize today. These modern cultivars last longer, bloom earlier, and are available in a vast array of colors from red to white, pink to burgundy, and with many variations including doubling of flowers and flecks of color on contrasting backgrounds.
Selecting a Healthy Poinsettia
Poinsettias do great in the home with proper care and will keep their coloration until mid-March. When choosing a healthy plant, look for dark green uniform foliage. But be aware, that lighter colored or mottled bracts typically have lighter green foliage. Reject any plants that have dropping leaves, or ones that have pale green or yellowing foliage.
When purchasing, make sure that the plants are well wrapped or sleeved before transporting, as low temperatures, even for short periods, can damage the plant.
Poinsettias thrive in indirect, natural daylight- at least 6 hours a day. Do not place them in direct sunlight, as this may fade the bract color. For longer bloom, keep in temperatures of 65 degrees to 70. Keep the soil moist, and water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Do not allow the plants to sit in standing water. If your plant comes in a foil wrapper, remove this so the pot can drain properly or puncture so that the wrapper can drain. Fertilizer is not necessary while blooming.
Keep in indirect, natural daylight
Water when soil is dry to the touch
Keep in temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees
Make sure the pot drains
Fertilization is not necessary
Reflowering-Tough but not Impossible
It is possible to get your poinsettia to “reflower” next year, but you need to follow strict requirements for light, temperature, and fertilization. Following all these rules is way too much trouble for me, so I consider this plant a “throwaway”. Poinsettias are very inexpensive and I leave the growing of them to experts who have the right equipment to make this happen. If you really want to get your poinsettia to bloom again, go to http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07412.html for detailed instructions.
Contrary to popular opinion, Poinsettias are not poisonous, but neither are they edible. There was a study done that determined that a 50 pound child would have to eat 500 leaves to get really sick! And the leaves supposedly taste awful. The Poinsettia plant is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family of plants, which includes the rubber tree, where natural latex comes from. So, If you are allergic to latex, and ingest this plant, you may have some degree of discomfort, but not fatal. Likewise, if you handle the plant, you could develop a rash. Poinsettias are not harmful to pets either, unless they ingest leaves or bracts in very large quantities. Cats who chew on the leaves may salivate and can vomit if the leaves are swallowed, but it will not kill them.
Decorating With Poinsettias
Rather than scattering Poinsettias around the house, try grouping them together for bigger impact. I also like to place Poinsettias in baskets along with other plants, pods, and cones, to add interest.
As cut flowers, Poinsettias are great, but you rarely see them. The plants are so inexpensive, that I don’t feel guilty buying one, and cutting the flowers off for arrangements. You can get an entirely different look by using them as cut flowers and they last a long time in a vase, over a week!
- Poinsettia production is big business for North Carolina (salisbury.wbtv.com)
- Visiting the Homestead Garden Center (forestgardenblog.wordpress.com)
- Are Poinsettias Really Poisonous? The Truth Behind These Holiday Flowers (proflowers.com)
- Poinsettia Care Tips for Year-Round Enjoyment (hometalk.com)
- Gardening: The Fiery Poinsettia (independent.com)
- How to care for a Christmas poinsettia (telegraph.co.uk)
- December 12th is Poinsettia Day (freeemployeenewsletter.com)
- Selecting and Caring for a Poinsettia (lowes.com)
- Planting a Poinsettia Flower for Gardening Beginners (gardening.answers.com)
- Poinsettia: Christmas plant since 1825 (blogs.vancouversun.com)
6 Replies to “Poinsettia – History and Legends”
Wonderful festive post! I’d fill my yard with poinsettias if I could.
We’re very lucky here in the tropics as we can grow them in the ground, and they re-bloom every year. They do add fabulous wintertime colour to a tropical garden.
Great job on this post, Claire- I learned a bit more about these beautiful plants. You have some varieties here which are never offered for sale in our area, and your groupings with hydrangeas and orchids are just stunning. “Sparkling Punch” is one of the most beautiful pink varieties I’ve seen. Thank you for all of the care and effort you put into this post. It’s just eye candy! Merry Christmas! WG
Thanks Woodland Gnome! That Sparkling Punch is also my fav. I am still trying to convince people that they are not poisonous and they still don’t believe me.
Thanks for all the information. I have one leftover from last year and it has new growth on it but no blooms. I wondered what I was doing wrong. I want to thank you for following my blog as well. Have a very happy New Year.
Love your blog! Have a great blogging year!