December 12th is Poinsettia Day. The date marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, an American botanist, physician, and Minister to Mexico who discovered the plant in 1828 in Southern Mexico and sent cuttings back to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. Now an iconic symbol of the holiday season, we see Poinsettias with their festive, bright red flowers everywhere this time of year. But what do you know about them?
10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Poinsettias
1. The Poinsettia is native to Mexico and was called Cuetlaxochitl or “star flower” by the ancient Aztecs, who cultivated it as a gift from the gods; Montezuma (1480-1520, last of the Aztec Kings) adorned his palaces with the plant.
2. In modern day Mexico, the plant is called La Flor de la Nochebuena (Flower of the Holy Night) and is displayed in celebration of the December 12th, Dia de la Virgen; use of the plant to celebrate Christmas in Mexico dates back to the 17th century.
3. In July of 2002, the House of Representatives created Poinsettia Day, passing a Resolution to honor Paul Ecke Jr. who is considered the father of the Poinsettia industry. In the early 1900s, it was Paul Ecke’s discovery of a technique which causes seedlings to branch that allowed the Poinsettia industry to flourish. Today, the Ecke family is recognized as the leading producer of Poinsettias in the United States.
4. Every year, Poinsettias contribute upwards of $250,000,000 to the U.S. economy, at the wholesale level.
5. Poinsettias are the best selling potted plant in the U.S. and Canada.
6. MYTH: “Poinsettias are poisonous to humans!” The plant’s bad rap for being severely toxic is actually an urban legend that dates back to 1919. According to POISINDEX®, the information resource used by the majority of U.S. poison control centers, a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 1.25 pounds of poinsettia bracts (500 to 600 leaves) to exceed the experimental doses that found no toxicity. However, people sensitive to latex, the milky fluid found in cut poinsettias and other plants, may experience skin irritation if they come in contact with the sap.
7. According to the ASPCA, Poinsettias are only mildly toxic to pets, if at all. While they can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach, and sometimes vomiting, generally their toxicity is over-rated.
8. In nature, Poinsettias are perennials that can grow to ten feet.
9. If you cut your Poinsettia for a flower arrangement, leave at least four inches of stem. Seal the cut end by dipping in boiling water or holding over a flame for fifteen seconds.
10. Poinsettias need space to flourish, so be extra careful picking plants from a store where they’re crowded into a display.
Poinsettias: The Mexican Christmas Legend
The Poinsettia flower is at the center of a beautiful Mexican Christmas legend about poor young girl named Pepita who falls heartbroken because she doesn’t have the money to buy anything with which to honor baby Jesus during the Christmas Procession. Seeing her in tears, an angel appears to Pepita and tells her to gather a bundle of weeds growing on the roadside, saying that any gift given with love is a wonderful gift. When her tears fall upon the weeds they miraculously turn into glorious red blooms. Moral of the story: It truly is the thought that counts.