No flower says Christmas like the beautiful poinsettia. These gorgeous flowers are a well-recognized symbol of Christmas. While these flowers used to only be available in red, now there are over 100 varieties of poinsettia that range in color from the traditional red and white, to pink, purple, yellow, orange and salmon.
December 12 is National Poinsettia Day! Poinsettia Day was officially declared in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett who died on December 12, 1851. Poinsett was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico.
The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored modified leaves, known as bracts! Foliage and bracts vary in size and shape. While some varieties produce smooth, tapered leaves, others produce jagged leaves.
The poinsettia’s true flowers form a cluster of small yellow blooms that are surrounded by the colored bracts. The flower contains the pollen necessary for pollination and seed formation. Most people assume the tiny flower is simply the center of the colorful bracts that look like a large bloom.
The color of the bracts occurs because of a process called photoperiodism. This means they require periods of darkness, at least 12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row in order to change color. Once poinsettias have finished this process, plants need an abundance of light during the day to achieve the brightest color.
Poinsettias are native to Mexico. These naturally occurring perennial flowering shrubs were once considered weeds! The Aztecs used the poinsettia bracts to make a reddish purple dye for fabrics, and used the sap medicinally to control fevers.
The Aztec Indians had special symbolism for the poinsettia. They too thought that it looked much like a star and named it, what translates to, star flower. They said that the poinsettia symbolizes purity, holiness, and wisdom or intelligence.
For the longest-lasting poinsettia plants, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing. This will keep flowers from drooping. While many dispose of their plants after their blooming season, the holidays, poinsettia plants will continue to grow for years with proper care, which typically means keeping the soil moist and providing bright sun
Despite being the flowers of Christmas, these plants are not front-tolerant. They do well inside for colder places but grow well outdoors in coastal climates. When transporting these flowers home after purchase, wrap them to protect them from the cold. In the ground, these plants can reach up to 10 feet tall.
Poinsettias are botanically of the Euphorbiaceae family of plants. Like most flowers in this family, poinsettias ooze a milky sap. People with latex allergies can have skin reactions from contact with this milky sap. The cap can also cause irritation and nausea for pets including cats and dogs. Because of this, it is best to keep pets away from these plants, especially puppies and kitties.
Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous! A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have any harmful effect. The leaves have an awful taste so most people are not tempted to eat them anyway.