Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are making their December debut this week. With up to 50 million plants sold annually, you are likely to give, receive, or at the very least, encounter the plant in your daily travels this holiday season.
How much do you know about the care and history of this botanical holiday plant?
True or False? Poinsettias are highly poisonous – keep children and pets away.
Mostly false. According to the University of Illinois Extension, “A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than a pound-and-a-quarter of Poinsettia leaves (500 to 600 leaves) to have any side effects. The leaves are reportedly not very tasty, so it’s highly unlikely that kids or even pets would be able to eat that many!” So, while ingestion can cause mild stomach irritation the plant is not considered highly toxic.
True or False? The plant was brought to the U.S. in 1915 by a shopkeeper as a gift for parents who brought their children to breakfast with Santa.
False. Robert Pointset, a botanist, physician and first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico is credited with bringing the plant to the U.S. in 1848, when they were introduced at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
True or False? For longest enjoyment, select plants with tight oval bead-shaped structures, which are the actual flowers that surround the colored leaves or bracts.
True. The colored bracts, or modified leaves (commonly, but incorrectly referred to as the flower) will start to fade when the center cyathia (flower) open and release pollen. Look for tight, spikey bead-shaped buds when selecting plants.
True or False? The Aztecs used the colorful parts of the Poinsettia to make a reddish-purple dye for clothing and believed the sap cured fevers.
True. Poinsettias were used for practical and ethnobotanical uses in ancient cultures, including coloring cloth and treating fevers.
True or False: National Poinsettia day is October 1st, the day that plants should start receiving 12-14 hours of complete darkness in order to rebloom.
Partially true. October 1st is the date to start giving your Poinsettia half days of complete darkness, called photoperiodism, to trigger reblooming. But if you want to celebrate Poinsettia day (and who doesn’t?) it is December 12th, the day Robert Poinsett died in 1851.
True or False: Poinsettias come in over 100 natural colors.
True. Local garden centers have lots of red, pink, cream and coral varieties along with some sassy lime green, orangey-yellow cultivars and splotchy multi-colored bracts. Mother Nature has no hand in producing the Bronco blue and sparkly grape colored varieties – these are sprayed and glittered. There’s a poinsettia for every taste!
True or False: Allow a Poinsettia in bloom to dry out completely before watering.
False. Poinsettias can be divas — water when soil surface is just dry to the touch so check daily, especially if the plant is in a small pot. Leaves will droop and yellow if the plant gets too dry. Don’t let the plant sit in water and keep it away from cold and drafts. Ideal temperature is between 65-70 degrees and there is no need to fertilize when in bloom.
Which is the correct pronunciation Poin-set-ah or Poin-set-ee-ah?
Either way is correct!
Check back next month for tips on coaxing your poinsettia to bloom next year. It’s a good challenge for indoor plant collectors.
Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener
Photo courtesy of Pixabay, a source for royalty free photography