History of the Poinsettia

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Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)

Poinsettias History

• Poinsettias are the most popular holiday plant in the US
• They account for nearly ¼ of all house plants sold in the US year round
• Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America
• Ancient Aztec first used poinsettia’s colorful leaves for a dye and other plant parts for a variety of medicinal uses
• Mexican culture used poinsettia as a holiday symbol for centuries before they rose to popularity in the US
• Joel Roberts Poinsett first brought the plant to attention in the US
o He was 1st ambassador to Mexico and an amateur botanist
o Noticed poinsettia in Mexico on a hike in 1828, sent cutting home to South Carolina
o Made the plant popular in the US, the common plant name is a nod to Mr. Poisett

Poinsettia Myths

• Myth: The poinsettia flower is the attractive part of the plant that holds the holiday beauty
o Poinsettia flowers develop in tiny yellow clusters
o Large red bracts, or modified leaves, are what actually bring the brilliant red color
• Myth: Poinsettias are small potted plants
o We mostly see them as small potted plants
o However, they are actually small trees in nature, reaching a height of 12 or more feet
• Myth: You cannot save a poinsettia for next year
o Poinsettias can survive as year round house plants, although it is tricky to get them to flower again
o They are “Short-day” plants, meaning the flower as day length shortens each winter
o Indoor light conditions must be optimal for rebloom, artificial lights can over expose plants and limit flowering
• Myth: Poinsettias are poisonous
o This is a common myth associated with poinsettias
o Research has shown little toxicity
 Ohio State Research – 1970’s and 80’s
• Not poisonous to rats given high doses
• Estimated that the average child would need to eat 400-500 leaves to have any toxic affects
 1996 study of poison control center calls
• Between 1985 and 1992 around 2% of 800,000 poison control center calls were about poinsettia exposure
• 92% of cases reported no sign of any toxicity
• 96% of those calls resulted in no need for medical attention
• The primarily affliction reported was minor skin irritation from exposure to milky sap
Want to learn more about Poinsettia care, history and myths? Visit Illinois Extension’s “Poinsettia Pages” website at go.illinois.edu/poinsettia

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