The iconic star shape and vibrant color of the Poinsettia is a staple during the holiday season. While many people recognize the holiday plant, few know its real origins and connection to the season or the variety wonderful colors that poinsettias come in.
Joel Roberts Poinsett (that’s why we call them Poinsettia) was the first Ambassador from the USA to Mexico in 1825. While visiting the Mexico area in 1828, Joel became very interested in the plants. He immediately sent some of them back to South Carolina, where he began growing the plants and sending them to friends and botanical gardens.
The Poinsettia is a light sensitive plant. When you deprive the plant of light, the only chlorophyll used to turn the leaves green cannot be produced. As a result of the lack of light, the only color that will be produced is red. This is called photoperiodism. The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts. A bract is a modified or specialized leaf. A Lesson in the Anatomy of a Poinsettia is shown in the photo below:
Poinsettia bracts come in natural colors which can be shades of red, blue, cream, white, yellow, orange, pink, light green, purple and even marbled. Some of these colors might not be associated with the holiday, but all of them are brilliant images that can occupy your home’s main décor in any other part of the year.
So why are Poinsettias so connected to the holidays, Christmas in particular. Some believe that the star shape of the plant’s bracts represent the Star of Bethlehem, the guiding star that led the kings the place that Christ was born, that the red poinsettia represents the red blood of Christ, and they believe that the white poinsettia are said to represent the angels or the purity of the Christ child and his Mother at his time of his birth.
Some prefer to associate poinsettias and Christmas with a Mexican legend. The tale is of a poor girl who had no gift to present to the baby Jesus for the Christmas Eve services. While walking to the chapel sadly, she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and formed them into a simple bouquet. She was embarrassed by her gift but knelt to put her bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene anyways. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers. All the people who witnessed this happen truly knew that is was a miracle. From that day forward, the bright red poinsettia is known as the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’.
- National Poinsettia Day is celebrated on Dec. 12, honoring both the plant and the man who brought it to America, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett.
- The plant originates from the Mexican countryside.
- Poinsettia are poisonous to cats, dogs, horses, cows, birds.
- Poinsettia were first sold as cut flowers. In the early 1900s they began being sold as whole plants for landscaping and pot plants.
- The Poinsettia is also the national emblem of Madagascar.
- Poinsettias do “bleed” a white, irritating latex. However, the persistent myth that poinsettias are poisonous is just that; the plant is only mildly toxic to pets. Of course, poinsettias are not supposed to be eaten, and some people do experience an allergic reaction to them
If you want to enjoy your poinsettia into the new year, here’s what you need to know:
- Keep the plant at a temperature between 60 and 70 degrees. Keep it away from drafts, fireplaces, and hot air registers. (Excessive heat is a poinsettia’s worst enemy.)
- Place the plant where it will receive at least six hours of indirect sunlight each day.
- Water the plant when the soil surface is dry. Hold the plant under the sink to water it, and continue to hold it there until it has completely drained.
- Do not fertilize your poinsettia.
- Be very careful with the branches, which are brittle and can break easily.
Have fun decorating, enjoy each other, and Happy Holidays!
Written by Amber Houchen, Licensed Broker