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The Story of Poinsettias

Poinsettias. They’re such pretty plants, and very much a sign that the holidays are here. Here is some interesting information about Poinsettias that you might not know…

Joel Roberts Poinsett is the person who introduced Poinsettias (see the resemblance between his last name and the plant’s name??) to the United States in 1828. He was the US’s first Ambassador to Mexico and a botanist and physician. He fell in love with the plants he discovered in Southern Mexico and sent cuttings to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.

The colorful parts of the plants aren’t the flowers. Nope, those are actually colored bracts and are considered modified leaves. The flowers are yellow and are in the center of the colored bracts. The bracts get their color changes through a process called “photoperiodism.” That means they need 12 hours of total darkness for at least five days in a row to change color. Not just a little darkness, but total darkness. Light of any kind, real or synthetic, will throw off their color changing abilities. That’s why the Poinsettias you planted in the garden might not be as colorful as the ones you buy every holiday season.

Red Poinsettia
Red Poinsettia

I’m sure you’ve heard that old wives tale that Poinsettias are poisonous. Well, the National Poison Center in Atlanta and the American Medical Association have repeatedly tested the Poinsettia’s reportedly poisonous abilities and have found, repeatedly, that they are not poisonous. One study done at Ohio State University showed that 500 to 600 leaves would have to be eaten by a 50-pound child before any side effects would even start to show up. And those side effects would be upset stomach and vomiting…which makes sense if one eats 500 to 600 leaves of anything.

Poinsettias do ooze a milky sap when the stems are broken. That sap can cause allergic reactions to people who are allergic to latex.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Florida has a native Poinsettia! How cool is that?? Euphorbia cyathophora (or Euphorbia heterophylla) is its botanical name. Common names are wild poinsettia, Fire on the mountain, fireplant, painted euphorbia, desert poinsettia, paint leaf and kaliko plant.

Native Poinsettia
Florida’s Native Poinsettia

And that is your Poinsettia history lesson for the day.  Did you learn anything?

Happy digging in the dirt!

Jeanni and Gibbs

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