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Poinsettia bracts and flowers (public domain image)


POINSETTIA – Euphorbia pulcherrima 


OTHER COMMON NAMES: Cuetlaxochitl  


FAMILY: Euphorbiaceae (Spurge)


USES: Commercially important ornamental flowering plant


HABIT: Native to Mexico and Central America, where they are shrubs or small trees.


CULTURE: The red bracts are modified leaves that take on this color due to "photoperiodism," or a period of darkness (12 hours a day for five days).


USES: The plants with red bracts are the most popular for holiday color, though many varieties of poinsettia can be found in Mexico and Central America.There are developed colors in pin, yellow, white, purple, and more See the University of Illinois Extension for more information.


PROBLEMS: They have a reputation for being toxic, but this is not the case. That said, they can cause some allergic problems (itching or redness) or nausea if consumed. See Wikipedia: Poinsettia Toxicity.



Did you know that the poinsettia has a special day of its own? By an Act of Congress, December 12 was set aside as National Poinsettia Day. The date marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who is credited with introducing the native Mexican plant to the United States. The purpose of the day is to enjoy the beauty of this popular holiday plant.


HISTORY: The indigenous name for the plant is cuetlaxochitl (pronounced Kwe•tla•so•cheetl). It is native to Mexico, the poinsettia originated in a region near the present-day city of Taxco. Joel Robert Poinsett, a Southern plantation owner and botanist, was appointed the first United States Ambassador to Mexico (1825-1829). While visiting Taxco, he was struck by the beauty of the brilliant red plants he found blooming in the region during December. He had some of the plants sent to his plantation in Greenville, South Carolina, where they flourished in his greenhouse. While the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was given by a German taxonomist in 1833, the common name, poinsettia, became and has remained the accepted name in English-speaking countries. With over 70 million plants sold nationwide each year, the poinsettia is now the number one flowering potted plant sold in the USA. 


Poinsettia is a plant that comes in dozens of varieties and colors


How to Care for Poinsettias at Home

Location and Temperature: The poinsettia thrives on indirect, natural daylight, and exposure to at least six hours daily is recommended. If direct sun cannot be avoided, diffuse with a light shade or sheer curtain. To prolong the bright color of the poinsettia bracts, daytime temperatures should not exceed 70 degrees F. Avoid placing the plants near drafts, excess heat, or the dry air from appliances, fireplaces, or ventilating ducts.


As a photoperiodic plant, the poinsettia sets bud and produces flowers as the autumn nights lengthen. It will naturally bloom in November or December, depending on the flowering  time of the individual cultivar. Timing to produce blooms for the Christmas holiday can be difficult outside of the controlled environment of a greenhouse. Stray light of any kind, could delay or entirely halt the re-flowering process.


Starting October 1, the plants must be kept in complete darkness for 14 continuous hours each night. Accomplish this by moving the plants to a totally dark room, or by covering them overnight with a large box. During October, November and early December, poinsettias require 6 - 8 hours of bright sunlight daily, with night temperatures between 60 - 70� F. Temperatures outside of this range could also delay flowering. Continue the normal watering and fertilizer program. Carefully following this regime for 8 to 10 weeks should result in a colorful display of blooms for the holiday season!



The poinsettia is NOT poisonous: The belief that poinsettias are poisonous is a misconception. The scientific evidence demonstrating the poinsettia's safety is ample and well documented. Studies conducted by The Ohio State University in cooperation with the Society of American Florists concluded that no toxicity was evident at experimental ingestion levels far exceeding those likely to occur in a home environment.


The POISINDEX Information Service (follow link for history), the primary information resource used by most poison control centers, states that a 50-pound child would have to ingest over 500 poinsettia bracts to surpass experimental doses. Yet even at this high level, no toxicity was demonstrated.


As with all ornamental plants, poinsettias are not intended for human or animal consumption, and certain individuals may experience an allergic reaction to poinsettias. However, the poinsettia has been demonstrated to be a safe plant. In 1992, the poinsettia was included on the list of houseplants most helpful in removing pollutants from indoor air. So, not only is the poinsettia a safe and beautiful addition to your holiday decor, it can even help keep your indoor air clean!





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