The History of the Poinsettia

Michael Nolan
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The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is one of the most iconic of all holiday plants. The unmistakable brightly colored leaves make a beautiful and visually stunning statement. It is so adored that it has its own day!

December 12th is National Poinsettia Day, designated as such by the House of Representatives in 2002 to honor the work of Paul Ecke Jr.. Ecke is considered to be the father of the poinsettia industry.  The date itself was selected to respect the memory of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the botanist and physician who first sent a cutting of the poinsettia to his home in South Carolina after discovering it in southern Mexico in 1828.

Interesting Trivia

  • In Spain, the poinsettia is known as “Flor de Pascua” or “Easter flower”.
  • There are over 100 varieties of poinsettia in multiple colors
  • A college football game called the Poinsettia Bowl has been played in San Diego since 1952.
  • If you live in a region that doesn’t succumb to frost, you can plant a poinsettia in the ground where it can grow as tall as 10 feet.
  • Beyond the United States, the poinsettia – or “Bent El Consul” (“the Consul’s daughter”) – has been cultivated in Egypt since the mid-1800s. It is named to honor Poinsett, who was also the U.S. Minister to Mexico.

Want to turn last year’s green poinsettia red again for the holidays? Start 8 weeks earlier by giving it bright sunlight, then keeping it in total darkness for 14 hours a day. Even the slightest amount of light can keep the color at bay, so choose a dark closet or other out of the way area. The color will begin to change in about 4 weeks.

I’ve heard that poinsettias are poisonous. Is that true? For years, many have been afraid of live poinsettias because of the widespread myth that the plants are deadly, especially to children and pets. The truth is that you don’t need to avoid the beloved poinsettia at all, as it is not considered significantly toxic to humans or pets. In fact, the American Veterinary Medicine Association of America (AVMA), doesn’t even mention the poinsettia on its list of plants that are potentially harmful to animals.

The rumor is believed to have its origins in the tragic death of a 2 year old in 1919. It was believed at the time that the child of a U.S. Army officer fell ill and ultimately passed after eating the leaves of a poinsettia plant, but the evidence never proved it to be true.

 

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