December 12th is National Poinsettia Day!
December 12, 2012
It seems like poinsettias, or Euphorbia pulcherrima, can be found everywhere around Christmas. They account for about 85% of the potted plant sales during the holiday season. Native to Mexico, they were a favorite of the last Aztec king Montezuma. He would have them brought by caravans into Mexico City because they would not grow in such a high altitude.
In the 1820s, John Quincy Adams appointed John Roberts Poinsett as ambassador to Mexico. An amateur botanist, he discovered the beautiful red plant growing wild. He took cuttings from the plant and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. They are now commercially grown in all 50 states, with the majority grown at the Paul Ecke Ranch in California. In fact, 90% of all the flowering poinsettias in the world got their start at Ecke’s Ranch.
There are over one hundred varieties of poinsettias, but Americans favor the red color followed distantly by the white, pink, and mottled. Interestingly, 80% of poinsettias are purchased by women over the age of 40. Contrary to popular belief, they are not poisonous, but the milky sap can cause skin irritation. And if eaten, they will cause mild stomach upset.
When selecting a poinsettia, keep in mind that the more "blooms" the higher the price. Look for little or no yellow pollen on the leaves, bracts that are completely colored and have no green around the edges, and a plant that is 2 ½ times taller than the container. Avoid plants in plastic or paper sleeves, as they will lose their bracts more quickly. Finally, look at the true flowers at the base of the colored bracts. They should be green or tipped with red.
When the holidays are over, don’t toss your poinsettia out with the Christmas tree. In the spring, the red bracts will be replaced by light green leaves, and the plant will thrive in your garden or a patio pot once the temperatures are consistently above 75 degrees.