December 12 is National Poinsettia Day. It is named after the familiar holiday plant and marks the passing of Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, physician, an amateur botanist who died on December 12, 1851. Poinsett introduced the Mexican flower to the United States in 1828. He sent cuttings back from the plant he discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in South Carolina.
In the 1900s two California men, Paul Ecke Sr. and Paul Ecke Jr. developed techniques for growing Poinsettias that would be more attractive, last longer, have more variety and that could be transported all over the country. They also began marketing Poinsettias as Christmas flowers until by 1986, the poinsettia had become the No. 1 best-selling potted plant in the United States, according to a 1998 book “Poinsettias, the December Flower” by Christine Anderson and Terry Tischer.
Poinsettias are a perennial flowering shrub that was once considered a weed. In Mexico they will grow 10-15 feet tall. They will grow outdoors in temperate coastal climates, but are not frost-tolerant.
The Poinsettia goes by many different names depending on the country or scientific name. Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. Its scientific name is Euphorbia pulcherrima. In the language of the Aztecs it is called Cuitlaxochitl (from cuitlati, for residue, and xochitl, for flower), Mexico and Guatemala as “La Flor de La Nochebuena” (Flower of the Holy Night, or Christmas Eve). Chile and Peru called the “Crown of Andes”. Spain calls it “Flor de Pascua” meaning Easter Flower”. It has also been called the lobster flower because of its red color.
There are over 100 varieties of Poinsettias which come in a multitude of colors: red, pink, cream and white, apricot to yellow, salmon (but not blue-these are designer color created with dyes). There are also speckled or marbled varieties. The main attraction of the plant is the leaves and not the flower. The flowers are the yellow clustered buds in the center called the cyathia. The colored leaves are called bracts or modified leaves. It is best to get a poinsettia that has buds that are not open yet.
Is a Poinsettia plant poisonous? Answer is false. It has been tested and cleared of this charge. If the plant is eaten it can cause stomach irritation and discomfort. Cats and children may choke on the fibrous parts. The sticky white sap may causes skin irritation for some people. That is the reason to keep it out of reach of little ones and pets.
Care of Poinsettias
Avoid hot or cold drafts, keep the soil moist not soggy, and place in a room with sufficient natural light and temperatures of around 60-70 degrees F. Water when the soil begins to dry. Highly senstitive to cold temperatures and even a few minutes of exposure to 50 degrees or lower will cause them to wilt. If cared for properly, they will outlast your desire to keep them!
If you want your Poinsettia to rebloom next year. It requires work and regularity. The plants responds to short day lengths or actually long nights. They need daylight for no more than 10 hours daily, beginning around October 1. You will need to place plants in a darkened closet or room (with not lights at any time) from about 5pm to 7am or so daily for 8 to 10 weeks. Don’t forget to bring it back into the daylight every day. I have tried it but have failed to do it religiously. I did not get mine to rebloom the next year.
Celebrate Poinsettia day by purchasing a plant for yourself or a friend.