Celebrate the season with poinsettias

Celebrate the season with poinsettias

When it comes to flowers and plants, the poinsettia is one of the most recognized and most abundant during the holiday season. In fact, they are the best-selling potted plant in the United States, even though most of their sales occur in a six-week period.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico, where it grows as a shrub that can reach 10 to 15 feet in height. The plant is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the first United States ambassador to Mexico in 1825. Poinsett had a personal interest in botany and searched the countryside in search of new plant species. He had clippings of the plant sent back to his greenhouses in South Carolina, where he propagated and studied them.

While red is the most common color for poinsettias, they are also available in white, burgundy, pink, and many other colors, including marbled or speckled options. Artificial poinsettias are available in a wide range of colors as well, including blue, silver, and other colors not available as a live plant. In addition to potted plants, artificial poinsettias are available as individual stems to add colorful accents to floral arrangements or hanging greenery.

The colorful part of the plant is not a flower but actually a bract, which is a modified leaf. These bracts were traditionally used to create textile dyes in Mexico. The plants ooze a milky sap that can be irritating to people with a latex allergy, but it was often used medicinally to treat fevers in Mexico.

Contrary to popular belief, the plants aren’t poisonous, even to pets, unless consumed in extremely large quantities. Pets may have a skin reaction to the sap or experience nausea if they eat the leaves, but the reaction is typically mild. Still, it’s a good idea to keep live plants out of reach of both pets and children. 

In Mexico and Guatemala the plant is known as “La Flor de la Nochebuena" or Flower of the Holy Night. The story behind the name is of a young girl who wanted to present a gift to the Christ child on Christmas Eve but had no money with which to buy a gift. A friend assured her that any gift given with love would be well received, so she stooped along the roadside and gathered a small bouquet of weeds. As she laid the bouquet in front of the nativity scene, the bouquet transformed into brilliant red blooms.

For information on caring for your potted poinsettia, click here.

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