University of Vermont Extension
Winter (Holiday) News
Department of Plant and Soil Science
FUN FACTS ABOUT POINSETTIAS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
like trivia, or at least learning more about the top-selling holiday plant? If
so, perhaps you will be interested in a dozen fun facts about the poinsettia
plants you buy and see everywhere each December.
Did you know that the poinsettia's main attraction is not its flowers, but its
leaves? The flowers of the plant are the yellow clustered buds in the center
(termed “cyathia”). The colored leafy parts are actually bracts or modified
leaves, that turn color in response to the plant forming flowers. When buying a
poinsettia, make sure it has the buds, preferably not yet open.
Red is the most popular color, accounting for roughly three-quarters of all
sales nationwide, followed by white and pink. The more than 100 varieties of poinsettias
come in a range of colors from red, salmon, and apricot to yellow, cream, and
white (but not blue—these are a designer color created with dyes). There are
also unusual speckled or marbled varieties with several colors blended together.
New varieties are introduced yearly.
How many poinsettias do you think are sold in a year? If you guessed over 34
million, you'd be in the ballpark. According to the 2013 USDA Floriculture
Statistics report, poinsettias accounted for about one-quarter (23 percent) of
sales of all flowering potted plants. In economic terms, that's $144 million
out of a total of $618 million in sales of all flowering potted plants.
remain the highest selling potted flowering plant. Of the traditional crops, Easter lilies are a
distant second with $22 million in sales.
Potted orchids are higher value plants, so rated second in value ($186
million in sales), but a mere 23 million were sold.
Although every state in the United States grows poinsettias commercially,
California is the top producer with over 6 million pots grown, followed by North
Carolina with 4.4 million pots sold, and Texas with about 3.7million. Florida
and Ohio round out the top 5, each with over 3 million poinsettias sold.
Did you know that in the wild or planted in tropical climates, the poinsettia
can reach heights of 12 feet with leaves measuring six to eight inches across?
It is actually a small tropical tree ( Euphorbia pulcherrima) belonging
to the Euphorbia plant family.
A native of southern Mexico, the
poinsettia blooms in December and has been used in that country to decorate
churches for centuries. In the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, the Aztecs
used the poinsettia leaves to dye fabric for clothing and the sap for medicinal
purposes, including to help control fevers. They also considered the red color
a symbol of purity, and so poinsettias were traditionally part of religious
ceremonies. In Mexico and Guatemala, the poinsettia is called (translated) the
“Flower of the Holy Night” referring to Christmas Eve.
Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, an amateur botanist and first United States
ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant that became known as the poinsettia
to this country. He discovered a shrub with brilliantly colored red leaves
growing by the side of the road in Taxco, Mexico, in December 1828 and sent
cuttings home to his plantation in Greenville, South Carolina.
botanists at that time dismissed the poinsettia as a weed? Fortunately,
Poinsett continued to study and breed this plant in his greenhouse, sharing
plants with his horticulturist friends. It soon gained acceptance as a holiday
plant, despite its very short bloom time. It wasn't until the 1960s that
researchers were able to successfully breed plants to bloom more than just a
Here's another bit of interesting trivia. December 12 is National Poinsettia
Day (www.poinsettiaday.com/). Never heard of it? Believe it or not, the United
States has observed this official day since the mid-1800s. It honors the man
and the plant he introduced. Poinsett died Dec.12, 1851.
9. For much of the last century, the
Paul Ecke Ranch in Southern California produced the majority of poinsettia
cuttings and plants purchased in the U.S. and many of those worldwide. Paul Ecke, Jr. is considered the father of
this industry, as it is he who figured out a method for getting poinsettias to
branch. Prior they grew tall so stems
had to be bent back into a loop, or “tromboned,” to keep them at a desirable
height. It is from this plant and firm
that the football bowl game in San Diego gets its name.
True or False. The poinsettia is a poisonous plant. If you answered false,
you're correct. The plant has been tested repeatedly and cleared of this charge
by authorities such as the National Poison Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and the
American Medical Association. However, this doesn't mean that poinsettias are
meant to be eaten. If ingested, this plant can cause stomach irritation and
discomfort. Cats and children also may choke on the fibrous parts, so be sure
to keep these plants out of their reach. The sticky white sap also may cause
skin irritation for some people.
Do you know the best way to prolong the life of this Christmas plant? Avoid hot
or cold drafts, keep the soil moist not soggy, and place in a room with
sufficient natural light and temperatures of around 60 to 70 degrees F. Water
when the soil begins to dry. Once the leaves wilt too far, it's too late.
all, protect it from exposure to wind or cold on the way home from the store.
Poinsettias are highly sensitive to cold temperatures and even a few minutes of
exposure to 50-degree F or lower temperatures will cause them to wilt. But when
cared for properly, poinsettias usually will outlast your desire to keep them!
12. The most common question many have
is, can I get the poinsettia to rebloom next year, and if so, how? Yes is the short answer, but it requires some
work and regularity. If you want to try though, keep in mind that flowering in
this plant responds to short daylengths (or actually long nights). They need daylight for no more than 10 hours
daily, beginning around October 1. So
you’ll need to place plants in a darkened closet or room (with no lights at any
time) from about 5pm to 7am or so, daily, for 8 to 10 weeks. Don’t
forget to bring it back into the daylight every day! Even if you are
successful, keep in mind that much superior plants will be available from
greenhouses and growers, as well as new varieties in all sizes.