The poinsettia (/pɔɪnˈsɛtiə/ or /pɔɪnˈsɛtə/)
Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a commercially important plant species of
the diverse spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). The species is indigenous
to Mexico. It is particularly well known for its red and green foliage
and is widely used in
Christmas floral displays. It derives its common
English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States
Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the US in 1825.
2 Religious and other traditional associations
3 Creation of the American poinsettia industry
5 Toxicity claims
7 External links
Poinsettia leaves, bracts, and flowers at Jayanti in Buxa Tiger
Reserve of West Bengal, India
Euphorbia pulcherrima is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a
height of 0.6–4 metres (2–13 ft). The plant bears dark green
dentate leaves that measure 7–16 centimetres (2.8–6.3 in) in
length. The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can
be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often
mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but
are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created
through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours
at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. At the
same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the
The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract
pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in
the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia.
The poinsettia is native to Mexico. It is found in the wild in
deciduous tropical forests at moderate elevations from southern
Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of
Guatemala. It is also found in the interior in the hot, seasonally dry
forests of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. Reports of E.
pulcherrima growing in the wild in
Costa Rica have yet
to be confirmed by botanists.
Religious and other traditional associations
Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic
medication. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is
called Cuitlaxochitl, meaning "flower that grows in residues or
soil" Today it is known in
Guatemala as Flor de Noche
Christmas Eve Flower. In Spain it is known as Flor
de Pascua or Pascua, meaning
Easter flower. In Chile and Peru, the
plant became known as Crown of the Andes. In Hungarian, it is
called Santa Claus' Flower, and is widely used as a Christmas
The plant's association with
Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico,
where legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was
too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday and
was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place
them in front of the church altar. Crimson blossoms sprouted from
the weeds and became poinsettias. From the 17th century,
Franciscan friars in
Mexico included the plants in their Christmas
celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize
the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood
sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.
Poinsettias are popular
Christmas decorations in homes, churches,
offices, and elsewhere across North America. They are available in
large numbers from grocery, drug, and hardware stores. In the United
States, December 12 is National
Creation of the American poinsettia industry
Albert Ecke emigrated from Germany to Los Angeles in 1900, opening a
dairy and orchard in the Eagle Rock area. He became intrigued by the
plant and sold them from street stands. His son, Paul Ecke, developed
the grafting technique, but it was the third generation of Eckes, Paul
Ecke Jr., who was responsible for advancing the association between
the plant and Christmas.
Besides changing the market from mature plants shipped by rail to
cuttings sent by air, he sent free plants to television stations for
them to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas. He also
appeared on television programs like
The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show and Bob Hope's
Christmas specials to promote the plants.
Until the 1990s, the Ecke family, who had moved their operation to
Encinitas, California, in 1923, had a virtual monopoly on poinsettias
owing to a technique that made their plants much more attractive.
They produced a fuller, more compact plant by grafting two varieties
of poinsettia together. A poinsettia left to grow on its own will
naturally take an open, somewhat weedy look. The Eckes' technique made
it possible to get every seedling to branch, resulting in a bushier
In the late 1980s, university researcher John Dole discovered the
method previously known only to the Eckes and published it,
allowing competitors to flourish, particularly those using low-cost
labor in Latin America. The Ecke family's business, now led by Paul
Ecke III, decided to stop producing plants in the U.S., but as of
2008, they still serve about 70 percent of the domestic market and 50
percent of the worldwide market.
A poinsettia that was stressed and reflowered after growing in bonsai
Poinsettia varieties on sale in England
A close-up photo of a poinsettia (
The poinsettia has been cultivated in
Egypt since the 1860s, when it
was brought from
Mexico during the Egyptian campaign. It is called
bent el consul, "the consul's daughter", referring to the U.S.
ambassador Joel Poinsett.
There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia.
In areas outside its natural environment, it is commonly grown as an
indoor plant where it prefers good morning sun, then shade in the
hotter part of the day. Contrary to popular belief, flowering
poinsettias can be kept outside, even during winter, as long as they
are kept frost-free. It is widely grown and very popular in
subtropical climates such as Australia,
Rwanda and Malta.
The plant requires a daily period of uninterrupted long, dark nights
followed by bright sunny days for around two months in autumn in order
to encourage it to develop colored bracts. Any
incidental light during these nights (from a nearby television set,
from under a door frame, even from passing cars or street lights)
hampers bract production. Commercial production of poinsettia has been
done by placing them inside a greenhouse and covering the latter
completely to imitate the natural biological situation.[citation
To produce extra axillary buds that are necessary for plants
containing multiple flowers, a phytoplasma infection—whose symptoms
include the proliferation of axillary buds—is used. The
discovery of the role phytoplasmas play in the growth of axillary buds
is credited to Ing-Ming Lee of the
USDA Agricultural Research
Main article: List of poinsettia diseases
Poinsettias are susceptible to several diseases, mostly fungal, but
also bacterial and parasitic.
In the United States and perhaps elsewhere, there is a common
misconception that the poinsettia is highly toxic. This misconception
was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after
consuming a poinsettia leaf.
While the sap and latex of many plants of the spurge genus are indeed
toxic, the poinsettia's toxicity is relatively mild. Its latex can
cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. It is also
mildly irritating to the skin or stomach and may sometimes cause
diarrhea and vomiting if eaten. Sap introduced into the human eye
may cause temporary blindness.
American Journal of Emergency Medicine
American Journal of Emergency Medicine study of 22,793 cases
reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers showed
no fatalities, and furthermore that a strong majority of poinsettia
exposures are accidental, involve children, and usually do not result
in any type of medical treatment. POISINDEX, a major source for
poison control centers, says a 50 lb (23 kg) child would
have to eat 500 bracts (poinsettia leaves) to accumulate levels of
toxins found to be harmful in experiments. An Ohio State
University study showed no problems even with extremely large
^ Wells, John C. (1990). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. Harlow,
England: Longman. ISBN 0-582-05383-8. entry "poinsettia"
^ "poinsettia". Dictionary.com. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
^ a b Bussell, Gene (December 2009). "Get Ready for Holiday Flowers".
Southern Living. 44 (12): 88.
^ "Mexico". United States Department of State. Archived from the
original on November 30, 2009. Retrieved February 17, 2016.
Poinsettia Facts - The
Poinsettia Pages - University of Illinois
Extension". extension.illinois.edu. Retrieved 2017-12-20.
^ Perry, Leonard. "Fun Facts about Poinsettias". pss.uvm.edu.
^ "How To Make
Poinsettia Turn Red: Make A
Gardening Know How. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
^ a b c d e f g Seltzer, Erica D.; Spinner, MaryAnne. "Poinsettia
University of Illinois
University of Illinois Extension.
Retrieved January 30, 2017.
^ a b Bender, Steve, ed. (January 2004). "Euphorbia". The Southern
Living Garden Book (2nd ed.). Birmingham, Alabama: Oxmoor House.
p. 306. ISBN 0-376-03910-8.
^ Trejo, L., M. E. Olson, P. Feria, K. M. Olsen, L. E. Eguiarte, B.
Arroyo y J. A. Gruhn. 2012. "Poinsettia's wild ancestor in the Mexican
dry tropics: historical, genetic, and environmental evidence."
American Journal of Botany 99: 1146–1157.
^ a b Joel Roberts Poinsett. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th
Edition [serial online]. November 2011;:1. Available from: Academic
Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 8, 2012
^ "The Legends and Traditions of Holiday Plants Horticulture and
Home Pest News". www.ipm.iastate.edu. Retrieved February 17,
^ Flowers Ireland Archived November 18, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
^ Jauron, Richard (December 8, 1995). "The Legends and Traditions of
Holiday Plants". Horticulture and Home Pest News. Iowa State
University. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
Christmas Poinsettia' Fine Art Print by Anne Gitto".
RedBubble. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
Poinsettia Day Bill of Congress". Poinsettiaday.com. July 22, 2002.
Retrieved November 27, 2017.
^ a b c Anton, Mike (December 23, 2008). "The bloom is off the
poinsettia business". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 28,
^ a b Cynthia Crossen, "Holiday's Ubiquitous Houseplant," Wall Street
Journal, December 19, 2000.
^ How Poinsettias Became Synonymous With Christmas
Poinsettia Day Industry
^ Perry, Leonard. "Fun Facts About Poinsettia". Perry's Perennial
University of Vermont
University of Vermont Extension, Department of
Plant and Soil
Sciences. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
^ Smurfplant, Habitat
^ Lee; et al. (1997). "
Phytoplasma induced free branching in
commercial cultivars". 15. Nature Biotechnology: 178–182.
^ Kaplan, Kim (December 1, 2015). "Poinsettias: Helping an Icon to
Bloom at the Right Time". USDA. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
^ a b "Poisonous Poinsettias". Snopes.com. Retrieved December 16,
^ Eke, Tom; Al-Husainy, Sahar & Raynor, Mathew K. (2000). "The
spectrum of ocular inflammation caused by
Euphorbia plant sap" (PDF).
Arch Ophthalmol. 118 (1): 13–16. doi:10.1001/archopht.118.1.13.
^ "Latex Allergy? Beware Poinsettias". WebMD. Retrieved January 28,
Poinsettia Plants Poisonous? Fact or Fiction?". Retrieved
December 21, 2007.
Poinsettia information from Drugs.com". Drugs.com.
Retrieved November 29, 2008.
^ Krenzelok EP, Jacobsen TD, Aronis JM (November 1996). "Poinsettia
exposures have good outcomes...just as we thought". Am J Emerg Med. 14
(7): 671–4. doi:10.1016/S0735-6757(96)90086-8.
Poinsettia Care in the Home". Archived from the original on June 7,
2011. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
The Wikibook Horticulture has a page on the topic of: Euphorbia
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Poinsettia Page: Images of
Euphorbia pulcherrima in the wild
Euphorbia pulcherrima (poinsettia) - Plants & Fungi At Kew
Poinsettia By Elizabeth Dougherty
Snopes on toxicity
Earthworm Castings as a Substrate for
Manipulation of Light Environment to Produce High-quality Poinsettia
Patent US4724276 - Process for altering poinsettia growth
Poinsettia pages at the University of Illinois, UIUC
Poinsettias in Africa
Ohio State University
Ohio State University Fact Sheet
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