During the holiday season, we see poinsettias everywhere. Many of us buy a plant for decorative touch or as a gift for someone we are visiting. The poinsettia industry has grown around this holiday tradition. Today, poinsettias are one of the most important floricultural crops produced in the United States. Grown primarily as a potted plant for the Christmas season, total U.S. poinsettia production was valued at $66 million back in 1980!
History of Poinsettias
This striking foliage plant, the Poinsettia, was first cultivated by the Aztecs of Mexico and highly prized by Aztec Kings Netzahaulcyotl and Montezuma. After the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico, Franciscan priests in began using the plants in religious processions because of its brilliant color. Joel Robert Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, introduced poinsettias to the United States in 1825. Poinsett was a botanist and had specimens sent back to his greenhouses in South Carolina. Ponsett also distributed plants to botanical gardens and nurseries. From here, the cultivation of poinsettias grew into the holiday tradition (and major nursery crop) we enjoy today.
Flowers or Foliage?
The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherima does not have showy flowers. Rather, the bracts (modified leaves) create the splash of color during the holiday season while the true flowers are small and insignificant (unless you are another poinsettia). The colorful foliage of poinsettias is a response to photoperiod (hours of daily sunlight). There are so many shapes, sizes, and colors of poinsettias available that a complete column could be written on that subject alone.
Are Poinsettias Poisonous?
Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous. Ohio State University conducted research on the poinsettia plant effectively disproving the charge that the poinsettia is harmful to human and animal health. Of course, the poinsettia, like all ornamental plants, is not intended for human and animal consumption. As pretty as they might be on a plate or mixed with leafy vegetables in a salad, they'd only soil the dish!